Giving Up Smoking, a Story from Someone Who Knows.

I meditated for a story to help a friend give up smoking. This is what came to me:

I am taken to a place where yellow cadaverous bodies hunch over their knees, heads bowed. I can hear their rasping breath. Some of them have lit cigarettes in their hands. Others are leaning back in chairs, oxygen masks over their faces gasping for breath. Amongst them, dotted about, stand shining people looking healthy and triumphant. They are the ones who gave up smoking. One of them, a woman, comes over and takes my hand. She leads me away to a wooded grove to sit and tell me her tale:

It was fashionable to smoke when I was a young woman. I was a bit of a rebel. I had a cigarette holder. It was in the 1920s. I was a ‘flapper’. Nobody cared about the state of their bodies then. You just did what you did. Mainly it was the men who smoked. It was considered to be sophisticated, the very thing to do. I used to feel awfully proud of myself with my long cigarette holder and my fashionable gowns. I saw many an envious glance cast in my direction from, shall we say less adventurous or out going young women.

My father smoked a pipe. He used to fill the lounge with his smoke. Mother would leave the room when he lit his ‘bonfire’ as she called it. She hated his smoke and even more she hated to see me smoking. But to me it was a symbol of my fashionable life and later it became my friend, something I could do when I was in ‘between’. When I was bored or lonely, or just wondering what to do next, I could have a cigarette.

When I was twenty five and my father was fifty, he developed cancer of the mouth. It grew in the place where his pipe rested. At first he ignored it. He was in denial. There was much to fear from cancer in those days. Eventually my mother persuaded him to see the doctor. They operated on him and his poor face was quite disfigured. He had been an active socialite, present at all the local political party meetings and a regular at the club. He withdrew from society. The cancer returned again. This time it was in his throat. My father died tragically at the age of fifty three.

The amazing thing is that I continued to smoke. More than ever I thought I needed my friend, the cigarette. Our family was devastated by the death of my father. Suddenly it was hard to make ends meet. Mother’s health was not good. It fell to me and to my brother to keep the family afloat. I found a job as an administrator at the local hospital. I became friendly with the doctors. There was one in particular who very much cared about the health of all the staff at the hospital.

One day he gave us all a talk. He was an older man, in his early sixties. His specialism was cancer. He told us that he had noticed that cancers developed in the lungs and other parts of the body in smokers. He had made a study of the subject. He described the blackened, hardened lungs of smokers. No wonder they died of emphysema, he said. They slowly suffocate, or they cough themselves into oblivion with bronchitis.

He instructed one of the staff to wheel in a recently dead cadaver of a man in his early forties. He had performed an autopsy on the body. The lungs were exposed to view. In a bucket beside our doctor was a set of pig’s lungs. He pointed to them. ‘Look at those,’ he said. See how pink and fresh they are? That’s what my own lungs look like. Now look at this poor fellow.’

We all looked in horror at the man’s chest. The lungs were a mottled blue, black and purple. There was a large rough whitish growth visible in one of them.

‘What do your lungs look like, I wonder?’ said he. ‘Isn’t this enough to make you give up smoking and to persuade your families and your spouses not to do it.’

The memory of my father’s death, so untimely, came flooding back to me. For the first time I made the connection between cigarettes, illness and death. I suddenly decided that I wanted healthy pink lungs and to be able to breathe freely. I threw away my cigarettes, holder, lighter and all. I was not going to put my family through unnecessary suffering and sorrow just because of my rebellious habit. I would find other ways of passing idle moments. And I did.

And so can you.

Please tell me what you think of this story, I’d like to know if it is useful.