Fag Break

No smoking CigarettesLeaving a shop this morning I came across one of the female staff outside smoking a cigarette.  “You want to stop that when you’re young,” I said.  “Why?” she asked.  “Because as you get older it’ll get harder to give up.”  Of course, it was none of my business, but she was cool and we got talking.

“I’m 28 and I know why I started,” she explained, “When I was twelve my dad died of cancer and I started smoking.  My mum burst into tears when she found out, because smoking had killed my dad.”

We talked on a little more before we parted company, wishing each other well.  The exchange made me wonder.  Why, having watched her evidently much-loved father die of lung cancer from smoking, had she taken up the habit?  Where’s the sense in that?

A twelve year old girl, watching her father ail and die, would feel such acute, simple and unmediated pain.  Perhaps her decision to do the very thing that killed him was a way of sharing his suffering, of honouring him, of joining him in his suffering so he wouldn’t have to go through it alone.  Maybe, if she could willingly enter the place of suffering in which she had seen him, she could create a sense of the power that she and her mother had lacked as they helplessly watched him die.  Maybe by choosing it, she could conquer it, for her dad.

Compassion defies logic.  Why share another’s suffering?  It is horrible to suffer; why do so, if you don’t have to?  There are only seven things we have to do:

  • breathe
  • eat
  • drink
  • sleep
  • ditch waste
  • love
  • die

The only item on this list that is not a physical necessity is love.  Some may say that we don’t have to love, but the pain of the loveless belies that assertion.  We simply cannot help it.  Compassion comes along with love, painful though it may be.  The word itself means to suffer with.

The young woman and I agreed that we all have to die.  Two questions on that though; how do you want to die?  And, more importantly, especially when you’re only 28, how do you want to live?

As I returned to my car, I realised what I wished I had said to her.  I swung past the shop on my way out of the car park but it was too late, she’d gone back inside.  What I wish I’d said was:  “You don’t have to prove your love for your father by killing yourself anymore.”

If you find this thought-provoking, say a thank you to the puffing shop-girl in the car park – and her love and compassion for her father.

Om Tare Tuttare Ture Soha

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