Breathe in. Hold. And exhale.
Most of us don't do this deliberately, unless we're doing some cool relaxation exercises. Most of us breathe voluntarily, without much thought.
I take my breaths more seriously than I used to.
A year ago today I nearly lost all my breaths. A reaction to an attack by a small patrol of wasps left me with a cardio reaction which simulated a heart attack. During those few terrifying, surrealistic moments I promised Ella Rose that if I survived I would never smoke another cigarette.
I have kept my promise.
Granted, I was a poorly skilled smoker anyway. I didn't like how cigarettes tasted in the second half, so I generally only smoked half of them. To be truthful, I was one of those people who often lit a cigarette, took a drag or two of it, and then let it burn itself out.
I came by my smoking ineptitude honestly. The first time I smoked was in 1966. We were living in Panama at the time and my mother was talking with my grandmother long distance. My step father thought it would be fun to tease her so he lit up a cigarette and gave it to me, told me to smoke it. I puffed and puffed, blowing smoke in the air, giggling. My mother just smiled and turned away, and finished her conversation.
When she got off the phone she turned back around to me and said, "If you're going to smoke you may as well do it the right way." She lit up a cigarette, took a deep drag on it, and slowly blew little billows of smoke into the air. Then she handed me the cigarette.
I was elated. Finally, my parents were treating me like the adult I knew that, at ten years of age, I was quickly becoming. I took the cigarette, put it between my lips, and inhaled long and hard.
I remember only two things about the next ten minutes of my life. My little pink innocent lungs lunged to every corner inside my chest, desperately seeking an exit, causing a coughing fit that has never been equaled in the annals of mankind. And my sister Deedee laughed so hard at me she literally fell down.
And if you knew my sister during that period of her life, you'd appreciate how significant this was. My sister didn't learn how to laugh until she was thirty years old.
Neither my sister nor I touched a cigarette for over two decades. I'm not sure what the occasion was that she finally decided to begin smoking. I remember mine well. I hesitate to tell you because it will demonstrate the depths of my ignorance. But heck - most of you already know how ignorant I am, so I'll go ahead and share this with you.
I had been doing therapy awhile and found that alot of people called my private practice wanting smoking cessation. My background in autosuggestion work (ie, self talk) made this an easy clinical fit for me, and I soon had a sizeable caseload of clients successfully weaning themselves from smoking. I became a little smug in my obvious expertise.
Before pride cometh a fall? Indeed.
I had one particular smoking client who I admired and respected very much. She was boisterous, hard headed, a no-nonsense kind of gal who took no prisoners. For the first few weeks of our work she seemed comfortable with our progress. And then one day she came in, particularly frustrated in the way that bulls sometimes become frustrated when their space is invaded. Even though she hadn't had a cigarette in weeks I was certain she had smoke pouring out of her flared nostrils.
She came into my office that day loaded for bear. I don't remember everything she said, but one part of her frenzied monologue made sense to my clinical naivete. She said, "You've never smoked. You have no empathy for what it's like to quit."
I am embarrassed that I fell for her challenge. I decided to take up smoking and then, after a month, quit, using the strategies I was using with my clientele. This way I would enhance my credibility among my clients. I bought my first pack of cigarettes that evening on the way home.
I quit smoking twenty-one years later, on 4 September 2011.
Self talk works great, and I still stand by it. But just like its cousin hypnosis, one must be motivated before it is effective. I liked smoking, and I didn't want to quit. The only thing that was strong enough to motivate me to abandon my habit was the look of terror in my Ella Rose's eyes as I lay gasping for air and clutching my chest.
I gave her my word that day, and the cosmos gave me back my breath.
I still crave cigarettes every now and then. But what I mostly crave is living long enough to see my boy into manhood, to see our grandchildren into adulthood, to see my newborn forsythias tower overhead. I am hungry for the evolution of technologies, and I'm too nosey to slip quietly into eternity. I love watching the global community unfold, I love seeing the various upgrades of my favorite games.
I even enjoy watching the political bitch slapping of our politicians who behave more like two year olds than leaders of the proverbial free world. There's always an election looming and I want to know who's going to win. I can't do that if I'm, you know, DEAD.
So my occasional cigarette crave succumbs to larger appetites. Each day that ticks by is another day of honoring my word, another day of being loved by the sweetest woman ever born, another day of watching my little corner of the world blossom.
And blossoming is the essence of the good life!
Heart Line, written and played by Kit on Sunflower Flute, F.