The first time I took a drag off of a cigarette was when I was twelve years old. It was something my way-cool-older-cousin introduced me to. Camel unfiltered: the shit the tough guys smoke. Granted, you guessed it right; I coughed at least half a lung and it tasted like something from a camel’s ass, but still; I felt freaking cool. Of course, four years later, when it was pointed out to me that I wasn’t inhaling, well then, I felt like a douche, but as youngsters do, I started inhaling and feeling like a bad ass once more.
Since then twenty-six years have passed. A part of me would like to think that if I were to travel back in time to that day when young Mark was about to take that first puff that I would run up to that dumb kid, smack the cigarette out of his hand and delve into an anti-smoking-health-sermon, complete with the threat of dragging him to a cancer ward to show him what will be the end result of his youthful transgressions. Of course, that part of me is probably full of shit. Most likely if I got to make that leap back in time I would run right past that young Mark, lighting up, and head straight for a gas station to buy as many cartons as I could to take back to an overtaxed future. Am I stupid for this? Sure, but it’s also my stupid life, which is one I have enjoyed thus far. Don’t get me wrong, I have no doubt that the second the cancer or emphysema verdict comes down that my tune will change to “how could I have been so stupid,” or “damn that cartoon camel’s appeal to my youth!” Still, this doesn’t really bother me. In my present frame of mind, I would rather keel right this minute than spend a decade in the slow decay of an old folks home, even though I know I might feel differently once the Grim Reaper shows up to test this theory.
Now, where my hypocrisy really shows itself is that I try to somewhat hide my filthy, smoker activities when I’m around my nephews and nieces. When it’s concerning their lives, I envision some ludicrous future where they live out long and happy lives devoid of the trials and failures that I’ve known in my time. Where the hypocrisy comes is that those trials and failures that I speak of have, in retrospect, become very colorful and in some cases even cherished pieces of my past. Not only the good but also the bad has contributed to my experience as human, and yes, I feel there is a value to it all. Even the cigarette smoking fits in here. I can remember sharing a cigarette with the first girl I ever kissed, and I can also remember discovering the pain of trying to smoke with Bronchitis. But despite these sap-filled-reflections of a teenaged Mark, I still would never encourage any of my nieces or nephews to start smoking, even as several of them crossover into the idiotic, wonder world of adulthood. How can I live with this hypocrisy? This is how, by making myself the promise that the second they become adults, if they should so choose to smoke, they know they can always bum one from uncle Mark. Because once they’re adults, they’ll know what is right for their lives far better than I ever will. I may want my loved ones to make healthier choices than I have, but even more than this, I want them to experience the absolute joy of making personal decisions, the feeling of having control of their own lives. For people like me, the best way to find out the stove is hot is to touch the damn thing. And even for the more prudent mind, the exercise of discretion and abstinence is the same act of freedom.
But in both cases the choice must be available. Though I dislike the idea of any of my nephews or nieces choosing to engage in an activity that is harmful to their bodies, in the end I will stand by any decision they make as adults in pursuit of their own happiness, as long as it does not infringe upon the rights of others. The course towards each person’s happiness is their own to plot, and even if they fuck it up they’re still the only one who can fix it. Our happiness is our own. As for my nieces and nephews, if smoking cigarettes would contribute to their happiness than I would at least be proud that they pursued their happiness. This would be a much better fate than if any of them were ever to wind up in Congress trying to pass laws prohibiting others from pursuing their happiness.
To be continued…