Simple conversation. Complex lessons.

RemembeRED prompt. Image source.We weren’t what you’d call friends. We walked the same halls, knew each other’s name, but little else about each other. I’m not sure how we struck up a conversation in the first place. I think we ran into each other at a baseball game where our younger siblings were playing. Neither of us had any of our respective friends to hang out with, so we gravitated toward each other. Actually, she probably approached me. I was too shy to do more than wave and smile.

I had a vague idea of the type of person I thought Maggie was. I’m sure she had ideas about me, too. Ideas based exclusively on reputation - whatever mine happened to be, I honestly couldn’t say. Hers was the reputation of being a fun girl. Popular, but not necessarily the most popular. She was friendly and had boyfriends at the ripe old age of 12, whereas I did not. Unfortunately, having boyfriends at that age sometimes meant gaining the wrong kind of reputation. 

It’s unfortunate that there was so much judgment that went on between different groups of kids. If you didn’t wear the “right“ brand of clothes (I didn’t) and hang out with the “right“ people (I didn’t), you were not in the “in crowd”. I always perceived Maggie to be part of the in crowd and not someone I could ever be friends with. I didn’t realize it then, but I suppose I had a bit of an inferiority complex. I wasn’t unhappy about my place in the grand scheme of things, but I knew I was considered an outsider.

I thought I was an outsider to Maggie until I actually had a chance to talk to her. Then I found out that we had something in common that was important to both of us. We were concerned about family members smoking. I gained a respect for Maggie that day that has stuck with me for over 20 years. At a very young age, she told her family that she was going to start smoking if they didn’t quit. I was stunned. I gasped and said, “Didn’t they get upset?”

Her reply that they didn’t get upset and that her family members who smoked had stopped was a revelation to me. I had no idea I could actually say things like that to adults and not get into trouble. I admired her courage to say how she felt.

I don’t think Maggie and I ever spoke again after that day, but I never forgot the conversation we had. I learned - for the first time in a meaningful way - that reputations don’t always accurately reflect the character of a person and what they truly care about. And, though it took me years to figure out how to do it myself, I learned that it’s even more important to stand up for what you believe in with your family and others you care about as it is to do so with people you don’t know.

*****

Cigarettes & Smoking: Why is this drug still legal?

Source: stock.xchngEvery day I take the bus to work. It’s the most economical method of transportation if not the quickest way of getting there. I could shave about 15 minutes off my commute time if I drove in. But parking a car downtown is expensive.

Because I ride the bus, I do a decent amount of walking through the streets of downtown and there is a very big downside to walking through downtown Ottawa - cigarette smoke.

As I walk to and from the bus or stand waiting for one to come, I am assaulted by the smell of cigarette smoke. The worst spot, by far, is the stop beside a shopping centre where a dozen or more smokers seem to congregate at any given time. The City of Ottawa has a by-law that says you can’t smoke within 9 meters of the entrance to a building. This by-law isn’t enforced that I’ve ever seen. Drive through downtown and check out any building entrance you pass and you’re almost sure to see at least one smoker by the door puffing away. The big challenge in downtown Ottawa is that there’s often not even 9 meters between building entrances, so where can a smoker go to light up? I get that.

However, I’d personally like to see smoking banned.

Make it illegal.

Universally.

This is not a popular stance amongst smokers - obviously - but I’m past the point of caring. Study after study has shown the damage cigarette smoking does to a body, yet it’s remained a legal drug. Study after study has shown the damage that second hand smoke does to non-smokers. Yet non-smokers are still forced - yes, forced - to inhale the toxic smoke emitted by smokers who have the right to smoke. 

For the record, I often try to hold my breath to avoiding breathing it in, but this isn’t always an option.

And the government - in Canada, at least - applies huge taxes on purchasing cigarettes as a “deterrent”. With any addiction, the addict rarely cares about the price. Just ask a drug addict who lives on the street how much the cost of their drug of choice deters them from wanting it. This “deterrent” is laughable to me. It’s always sounded more like a cash grab.

One cold, rainy day last spring, I walked through a crowd of smokers and the smell lingered on my jacket so badly from less than 30 seconds of exposure that I had to take it to be cleaned. But the unpleasant smell is only the superficial side of the argument against smoking.

I’ve had personal experience with the detrimental effects of smoking with loved ones. I’ve seen what it does in several members of my family and as a result I am passionately against smoking. When I mentioned this post, one family member said to me:

“I hope you realize that, despite my smoking for years, I believe it to be stupid, expensive, filthy and unhealthy. There is, in my opinion, no redeeming quality to it.” 

When a smoker feels that way, you know it’s difficult to quit.

Thirteen years ago when I met Matt, we talked for about two months before it occurred to me to ask if he was a smoker. He said that he wasn’t and that he’s actually allergic to cigarette smoke. Then he asked me what I would have done if he’d said that he was a smoker. And I said, without hesitation, that he’d have to quit or we wouldn’t continue with a relationship.

You think that’s harsh, don’t you?

You’re right, but this was (and still is) a non-negotiable area for me. I had no choice about it growing up with family members who smoked. Choosing a life partner who smokes was out of the question; I made that decision when I was about 11 and tried a cigarette for the first (and last) time of my life.

I wanted to see what was so attractive about smoking. I snuck a cigarette from a pack and slipped away to hide while I tried the cigarette. I barely got it lit, because I didn’t know what I was doing. Once lit, I mimicked the action I’d seen family do, breathing in through the cigarette I was holding between my two fingers. I didn’t inhale much because it didn’t feel or taste good.

About two puffs in, my mom began calling for me. I hurriedly put out the cigarette and rush inside, not even thinking about the lingering smell on my clothes and breath. It would be a gross understatement to say that my parents were not happy with me. What I learned that day is that smoking (like beer) is an acquired taste that I preferred not to acquire. The smell, taste, feel and look of smoking wasn’t more appealing after I tried it. Worse, my parents’ ire wasn’t worth trying it again anyway.

I made a conscious decision that day to never smoke again - and I haven’t. The one exception occurs when others are smoking around me and I am forced to breathe it in.

Smokers have the right to smoke, but what about my right to clean air?

*****

There is no greater gift that a smoker can give his or her loved ones than to stop smoking. I’ve had loved ones quit and it makes me happier than I can even express. If you’re a smoker and would like to quit, but don’t know where to start, you can get help from Smokers’ Helpline (in Canada) or the American Lung Association (in the U.S.).