PHOTOGRAPHY AND LIFE DESIGN

Changing Habits

1.

hamstersI loved smoking cigarettes.  I loved everything about it – the fire, the smoke, the rush, the air-art of jagged mountains that would fade in a breeze.  At first, I used it as a prop on the stage of college life – journalism to be exact. A cigarette in hand, I instantly became an imaginary reporter in a dark and smoky room with a single light bulb suspended over my typewriter as I reported breaking news produced on the incoming newswires click click click click.  My ashtray overflowed, each cigstub representing another seven minutes spent constructing the perfect story.

I didn’t graduate as a reporter; instead, I traveled, married and reared a few children.  I unraveled, married again (and again) and patched my life back together several times over.  The blue smoke remained a constant.  Cigs, you see, became my best friends.  All twenty in a row – always there, always dependable, always pleasurable, always standing ready at attention like little white papered soldiers with tan boots in my flip-top box of life.

I smoked in Paris and felt tres chic.  I smoked at the Vatican and felt like a racy little sinner.  I became Audrey Hepburn with her sleek little black cig holder as long as her neck.  I was a fashion model using cigs to keep my weight down, punctuating my puffs with a spoonful of yogurt here and there and an occasional snickers bar to keep me going.

2.

This went on for years – and years – and years.  I evened out at two-packs-a-day and kept that going for what seemed like forever.  There was a streak of time that I thought I was smoking three packs a day – turns out, other models were raiding my stash.  I was relieved.  Two was okay, three a bit excessive.  Two going at one time was weird, but that happened sometimes, too.

I knew I was damaging my lungs but since I couldn’t see them it really didn’t matter to me.  My imaginary lungs were blackening and I really didn’t care.  I could have swallowed a canary and it wouldn’t have flown back out simply because I knew for a fact it would fly right past my lungs without so much as even noticing them and then would get all tangled up in peristaltic action never to fly back out anyway.  The canary test didn’t apply, so therefore I was still okay.  Besides, my skin was still a healthy pink without wrinkles except for a few around the corners of my mouth like what nuns get from pursing their lips from being in the perpetual state of too much disdain.  I related to the disdainful nuns and lit up another one.  I wondered if I could smoke if I entered a convent.

3.

“Every time you inhale, you are strangling a tooth.  That’s why you need so many root canals.  You are constricting your capillaries and not feeding the canals.”  I really did not want to hear this.  I could live with imaginary blackened lungs and a wrecked heart (heck, I lived through the heartbreak of a few lousy relationships, cigs were not going to do my heart in any more than it already had been done in.)  But, my teeth?  No one had warned me about that.  All of a sudden, this was real and these root canals were getting expensive.

God has a marvelous sense of humor.  I have to clue you in on something.  I had fallen big time for the bearer of these bad tooth-tidings. Yes, I had the hots for my dentist.  I was head over heels – and about to meet his Mother.  The problem was this – his Mother lived almost four hours away by car.

Now, anyone who smokes knows the joy of smoking in the car on a road trip.  Fine tunes blaring, the freedom of the open road with continual heavenly puffs of relaxation.  Also, smoking helped to cut down on the snacking thus maintaining that svelte physique that had been in place for decades following that first puff ever (which, of course, was punctuated with severe coughing and the acute inability to breathe).

A road trip with my darling dentist with whom I was hopelessly in love meant – oh no! – I could not smoke during the entire trip.  Four hours of rolling over ribbons of pavement without so much as a hint of smoky fun.  This was a serious dilemma.

4.

So, I took it to my girlfriends during a smoking break at work.  What to do what to do. How in the world am I going to pull this off?  My little soldier-friends-in-a-box continued to stand at attention, expressionless, loyally remaining at my beck and call.  One by one, my girlfriends snuffed out their smokes and went back into the building leaving me there alone to ponder (panic?) alone.

It’s really hard to relay to you what happened next.  I am going to try, though.

I lit up another one and inhaled deeply.  When I looked up, I saw a nicely dressed gentleman standing about an arm and a half’s length away from me.  I was startled because I had been deep in thought and didn’t see him approaching.  I vividly recall he had very kind eyes that put me somewhat at ease.  He smiled and said, “I overheard you say that you needed to stop smoking.”  I thought to myself, what a nosy person – and an eavesdropper to boot!  He continued, “I went through that a few years ago and haven’t smoked since.”

Thankfully, I was standing right next to the door that opened into the building in the event I had to make a quick exit from this stranger who had just barged into my life without being welcomed.  This door-thought gave me comfort.  I politely asked him to tell me how he had been able to stop smoking.  After all, that seemed to be the question of the moment.  He answered,

“Pray often.  Pray a lot.”

Okay, confirmed.  This well-dressed snarky eavesdropper was just a holy-roller nutcase.  I thanked him for his thoughts, told him I prayed a lot already and began opening the door to the building.  He added as I opened the door,

“Ask God to smoke for you.”

“Flee!” my inner sinner shouted.  I quickly opened the door.  The stranger continued talking and added, “God loves you and doesn’t want you to be sick.  Smoking won’t make Him sick – let Him smoke for you.  Every time you want a cigarette, ask Him to smoke it for you.”  There was a sense of commanding urgency in his voice.

This, of course, stopped me in my tracks.  I really don’t know how long I stood there, but when I looked up, he was gone.  I searched the area with my eyes and there was not a sign of him anywhere.

5.

There is absolutely no way I could have thought this up on my own.  It was way too weird.  I had to admit that it did make sense, though.  God could not get sick – He could take my addiction from me – relieve me – prevent me from getting sick – all I had to do was Ask Him to smoke for me.  A strange feeling of protection, care and calmness – of love, really – swept over me as I opened the door and headed back to my desk.

I didn’t say anything when I got back to my desk because the whole thing seemed just plain too big and too strange to tell anyone at work.  I felt the need to sort and think and sort some more.

6.

A few days later, on April 23rd, 2004 at 5:04 CDT (I looked at my car clock) traveling south on Oakland, I tossed my last cig out the window of my car.  I looked in the rearview mirror and watched it bounce on the pavement.  Yes, I littered in the throes of a Miracle.  It has been said that God chooses the biggest sinners and uses them to show His mercy and love.  I have to agree, because I am far from holy and in the following days He must have smoked a few hundred cigarettes for me.  The cravings became less and less as the days passed.  It was totally amazing – I would think about having a cig (like every few minutes at first) and as soon as I asked Him to smoke it for me, the thought immediately was gone until the next time I wanted one.  The times got further and further apart until I really didn’t think about smoking at all anymore.

That was almost ten years ago.  I truly do believe an angel visited me that day at work.  Thank you, dear Lord.

And yes, I enjoyed a smoke-free road trip and did meet my darling dentist’s Mother.  Her son, David, and I have been married for nearly nine years now.

 

Hebrews 12:3

Forget not to show love unto strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.

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