Monday, January 14, 2013

Will set you free...

Years ago, when I was young lass of 18 (we're talking nearly 20 years back if you must know), I journeyed across the pond to Ireland, making sure, of course, to bring a fair amount of cigarettes because I was told that cigarettes were twice as expensive in Europe, which is true. But, alas, I ran out of my precious addiction feeders less than half-way through the trip. There were lots of opportunities to smoke in Ireland -- sitting on a wet curb waiting for the bus, hustling young men out of their Friday earnings in a billiards game (which would pay for my train fare to Galway), a scorching cup of tea sitting on the steps of a crumbling castle/youth hostel barraged by the frozen sea. Plenty of opportunity, even for this poor American student. What I didn't spend on Guiness and whiskey I spent on cigarettes and coffee. I bought my first 10-pack of Winston-Salems at a bodega right before we boarded a ferry to Black Rock. The pack was slimmer than its 20-count American brother, but what struck me most was the warning label. It stopped me dead in my tracks.

Two words: Smoking kills.

Indeed, it does, I thought while the ferry was tossed like a soggy muffin in the churning Irish sea. So it does, but do they have to be so blunt about it?

I shacked up with an Australian fellow for most of the trip. He was a pilot for Quantus and more than ten years my senior. Very nice, but like that pack of cigarettes, or fags, very honest.

"It is such a shame that you smoke," he said, his hand on my knee. "You're so pretty. And with such blue eyes. It will be sad to see your beauty destroyed in 20 years, if you're not dead from cancer." He tsked and shook his head again. Such a shame he kept mumbling.

Of course, I was insulted and ashamed. But the honesty of it kept me from even trying to pretend that what he said wasn't true. Or what the warning said wasn't true. Smoking does kill.

I look to that time now, and wonder, where is that kind of honesty? What a relief it would be to not turn heads in parking lots when I tell my son that if he doesn't pay attention to the cars, he's going to get hit, and possibly die. It's a plain fact, but I hear other parents with the same concerns, presenting the information gently as an 80-year-old woman in an S.U.V. nearly backs into a first-grader while

his mother gently tugs on his arm.

"Be careful, honey," she says mildly, "You don't want to get hurt by the cars."

Hurt?! Don't you mean 'hit and dead'?! 'Cause that's a real possibility here. The same goes for cruel behavior. Many a time, my voice has gone from zero to holler in three seconds or less because either child has done something so remarkable stupid, and dangerous, that I cannot shield my amazement and fear.

"Don't ever run off like that again!" I remember screaming at my daughter in a dead panic. She had hidden UNDER the food table after church and I spent the whole of ten minutes looking frantically for her while she crouched and giggled and chewed her way through several cookies. Some other concerned parents heard my panic and were calling her name as well. When we finally found her, they relaxed and patted her shoulder.

"You gave your mommy a scare," one nice mother said, smiling.

"Gave me a scare," I screamed. "I thought somebody took you. I thought you were dead! Have you lost your whole mind, girl?! Do you know what people do when they take children. They kill them. They hurt them first and then they kill them."

By that point, the entire congregation was staring at me, horrified. I grabbed my daughter's hand, crumbling the cookie that was in it, and went straight to the car, still yelling about the horrors of kidnappers.

Was it overkill? Not to me. Because it was true. Very, solidly, terrifyingly true. And she never did it again.

Just as it was true when a student of mine didn't do an ounce of homework for an entire semester and despite several reports home, and calls, his parents wanted to know why he failed.

"He's a great kid," I said. "But lazy as the day is long."

That went over like a ton of bricks. But it was true.

Or when a colleague of mine was bemoaning her weight while cramming her third cookie into her mouth. I said the cookies weren't helping, and she didn't speak to me for three days.

Are we so afraid to tell the truth? Is it so offensive these days that instead of getting to the heart of the matter, we tip-toe and dance pointlessly around the very thing that holds the promise of progress, and healing, and maybe, dare I say it, a better life?

My father told me years ago that I was too critical of people, especially people who had done me wrong. He was right.

"Let it go," he'd said. "Let it go. You're getting backed up in the details. You're very detailed in your criticisms. It's too time-consuming."

It has never been easy to tell the truth. And even harder to hear the truth. But we have so much to gain and so much to lose. And if we're not telling the truth to other people, then I assume we aren't telling the truth to ourselves. Even harder to deal with, yes, but imagine if we did.

Smoking does kill you. You can die in the grocery store parking lot. Butter makes you fat. War is never the answer. Love is trumped up. You're too attached to your dog. Having a baby doesn't make you a good mother. Getting laid improves your mood. Drinking in excess and screwing the people who love you most means you're an alcoholic. Not paying child support makes you a loser. Writers never make money. Bottled water is an evil enterprise. Slim Fast is a scam. Even nice people are racists...

The list goes on and on. But just think, what a sharp breath of air, if just once, the truth was told. Sorry Emily D., but we've been telling it slant for too long.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you Nichole. Smoking is addictive, and I can remember about 20 years ago when we had to bring my father to the hospital in the middle of the night with difficulty breathing (due to smoking, he has since quit). This is why I don't smoke and never plan to.

    Hope all is well,

    Jon Swartz