It’s been a year since I’ve smoked a cigarette. In that year of abstinence, not a single day has gone by where I did not briefly consider the alluring possibility of smoking a cigarette.
I am not impressed by this feat. I am shocked.
I smoked for four years and proudly took up the cause of smoking with the type of fundamentalist militancy usually associated with members of the Hezbollah. I didn’t give up smoking because of its harmful effects on the human body. I gave it up because I wanted to grow up.
This action has had lasting consequences on my social manners. Nowadays whenever I introduce myself to someone I share this information with an alarming eagerness. I have no way of not mentioning it. The fact that I quit smoking seems to me more important than my name, date of birth, occupation, or birthplace. In fact, I’m still surprised that there has not been a daily parade thrown in my honor by the city of Lisbon. Whenever I see some record-breaking, 120 year-old grandmother, who claims to have smoked all her life, I lower my gaze and curse the gods.
Smoking had ceased to be a spontaneous act and had turned into a carefully orchestrated crutch of procrastination. I became wary of its stabilizing effect. A cigarette felt like a natural extension of my hand. It helped me function socially by synthesizing the natural presence of mind that I saw in others. Whenever I had a problem, smoking a cigarette allowed me to contemplate possible solutions while keeping the imaginary tigers at bay. For a brief collection of minutes, the world didn’t have you by your throat. Even though cigarettes are minute harbingers of death, I felt safer when I smoked.
In this life, it seems so easy to pompously announce all the great things we aim to do while never actually doing them. We lie to ourselves constantly in order to carry on living. We make plans we never intend to keep. We have dreams we’re not prepared to sacrifice for. We live under the assumption that there’s plenty of time and that tomorrow’s always a better day to start. Cigarettes helped craft a lie that made me forget briefly that life is unfair, death is certain, and judgment is an unavoidable tragedy. While I might have trouble functioning without cigarettes, the fact of the matter is that I can’t grow up without having the constant acknowledgment of the omnipresent, indisputable truth of those three very unsettling facts.
Maybe I’m the just the type of person whose casual habits can easily turn into restrictive addictions, but I’ve reached a point where I can no longer consciously manufacture white lies that prevent me from asking myself the real, tough questions that relate to where I want to go. The questions whose answers I’m so terrified of because they might contain the implication that maybe I won’t get the things I want. And I could no longer stand the Freudian irony of killing myself by tiny increments because of a numbing fear of death.
I still feel that naïve invincibility of youth that precludes from analyzing the long-term effect of anything at all, but I strive to rationally counteract it. It is not easy to live with the maddening limitations that come from recognizing the transient nature of the human condition. The illusion of immortality can give us the courage to ignore grave risks and daunting odds. To others, this might seem like a small, uneventful thing, but in my case, cigarettes helped turned that illusory bubble that allows you to dare into a cage that makes you afraid of fear. Without cigarettes, I am troubled by the prospect of failure, but at least I no longer kept awake by the doubts of future regret.