Last week as I walked back from the park, along an alley behind the Farmers Market, I noticed a lanky, pimply faced kid huddled in a corner as he held a burning cigarette between stubby, raw, red fingers. Why, I have wondered so many times before, so I asked. His response was "I am addicted." In turn I responded that I did not buy it, he was too young to suffer from a true addiction. As I followed his eyes, I noticed the little, old woman beside him, also holding a burning cigarette. "It's in the family" he said, "I started at age 12." I kept on probing, truly trying to understand. "Why, are you rebelling?" "No." "Have you gotten the information on what the smoke does to your lungs, have you seen the images?" He answered by saying that he knew it was a "filthy habit."
I then shared about my own experience. 14 years old I had started to steal cigarettes from my Dad, a non-smoker, that he kept in a drawer. They were those cute, small, trial-sized packages of Camels or Marlboro. Ah, their advertisement sure worked on me then. Get them early and get them good, very effective. I was troubled and I rebelled, no doubt. Soon I would sneak out of our school to smoke in a nearby doorway with another outcast of sorts from my class, a sensitive, but also clearly troubled gay kid.
One day an Austrian yoga teacher got the better of me as he instructed me in asanas. He would exclaime about the sorry state of my body, unable to bend this way or that (it may have been a failed attempt of his to win me over as a student,) Well, I had my last cigarette before those instructions. It had not been an actual decision, my frontal lobes had very little to do with what unfolded. I had simply lost my desire to smoke and then supported this change of attitude with right, rather then 'stinking thinking' (as 12-steppers like to call it.) I gave myself good reasons why not to smoke.
If I remember right in those 5 years of smoking I had worked myself up to at least half a pack a day by the age of 19. Smoking in Switzerland was very common. As teens we frequented coffeehouses thick with smoke. Arriving, unsure, trying to look cool, out would come a cigarette. For a while I had been in to those long sweet and dark ones and later it was super cool to roll my own from Drum tobacco, still around these days. But all of this gone in one moment, after one person made some critical comments. I was very, very lucky.
Back to the kid with what I assume was his grandma, I assured them that I did not mean to judge or lecture them, that I truly had been curious and hoped they had not minded my asking. The kid, now here comes the kicker, said "no, it's o.k., most adults when they see me smoke actually look away." He welcomed my concern! I placed my hand on my heart and bowed ever so lightly and wished them well as I walked on, moved in a profound and startling way.