Who would you be if you quit smoking?
(insert your habit of choice… Who would you be if you quit talking to yourself that way, avoiding that situation, multitasking or running so hard? )
You’d be you, the same you you are now. You have nothing to loose. Or do you? What do you think you might loose? How would it feel? Would it leave a hole? Would you replace that space, or leave it bare? How would it feel?
We each contemplate mortality in different ways. It turns out I’m a real lightweight. I go to work and hold hands and sometimes ease pain, sometimes joke, sometimes breathe for someone or make the blood circulate temporarily, maybe fix a rhythm, maybe hold those left behind. Don’t get me wrong, these things touch me down to the core. I swore a long time ago I’d quit when they didn’t. But all it took for me to have the scared-in-my-sleep confrontation with my own (these words are a ficton) mortality was a really bad chest cold.
I’ve been sicker the last two weeks than I remember being since I walked around with a burst appendix 20 years ago in college (yeah, I know, body awareness came late). But being of strong stock and some healthy habits, I’ve escaped much real feeling of diminishment. I mean not just “wow I feel like crud today” but “Wow, I wonder if I’ll ever feel like myself again.” Wondering whether the deletrious habits may have caught up, may have wrought their damage, may have come home to roost.
I quit smoking last fall, I’m pretty sure for the last time (oh, yes, there were many others. there always are.) And I turn 40 this August. The key to my quitting was really sitting alongside, for the first time in an abiding way, what I was doing by smoking: stuffing my feelings as surely as a veteran member of Creampuffs Anonymous eats them. Yoga and meditation (there’s little light between the two) had paved the way with skills and tools for this transformation, and I hoped had mitigated the damage I’d done to myself.
But as I’ve recuperated, contemplating the gore I hack up from my much abused and long suffering lungs, as I inhale the medicine I’m used to seeing on the TV table next to the COPDer still sucking nicotine under a constant stream of oxygen through two prongs in their nose, I’m struck: what if I’m never up to my old tricks again? What if my old tricks have depleted my stores so relentlessly as to be unrecoverable? What if despite having stopped at least one of my deletrious habits, I’ve hit the wall?
Drama. I know. But drama is hard to avoid when describing moments so easy to contemplate in the abstract and so difficult to manufacture because their power comes from their creeping up upon – or within – us.
And then the deeper truth came: The wall exists. Whether I’ve smoked or drank or done yoga or meditated or lived in a goddamn convent my whole life, there is The Wall. Quitting smoking didn’t dissolve one moment of The Wall. What is The Wall? The diminishment of whatever we’ve come to rely on, whatever we have taken in as part of our Selves, whatever we think we cannot do without. Energy & vitality are evidentally right up there for me. The transparent ability to process oxygen from my environment without worrying about it.
And so it turns out that being sick wasn’t about having smoked and lived the rockstar lifestyle for too too long, and it wasn’t my Waterloo either. It was about being depleted and remembering I need to restore. It was about the biology of being human and the trajectory of being a paramedic: the latter puts me among the germies, the former makes me susceptible. It’s both random and it’s wickedly determined (we should talk about free will some time…)
And it was about being thankful I’d found out who am without smoking. Ultimately we won’t change that we’ll die or that it will suck or whether it contains pain and diminishment. But we can impact how light we are when we get there, and what we bring along.