I started smoking cigars when I was in high school. Throughout my teenage years, my primary act of rebellion was coming home 20 minutes late for my curfew…ONCE…and for good reason: I was making out with a girl. The only time I was even at a party where I was offered alcohol, it was a New Year’s Eve party, and my friend’s father was the one pushing the champagne on me. I was basically raised in the Duggar family, minus the sexual molestation of my siblings.
But I needed to act out in SOME way so I would be capable of telling my students some day about what a fucking rebel I was. So I smoked $3 cigars with my friends late at night, suffering God’s punishment of waking up with a feeling/taste in my mouth that resembled the after-effects of eating a live chipmunk. But man were those late night talks over cheap cigars some of the best memories from my adolescence.
Fast forward 20 years and I rediscovered the magical power of a cigar to force you to sit down and slow down for an hour. Once I took up the habit in earnest, my reading intake increased about ten-fold as I would always sit and read while I smoked. Then I discovered the various cigar lounges around Atlanta, and I’ve met some of my closest current friends in these shops. Almost two years ago, I met a plastic surgeon named Mark (he subsequently performed my penis reduction). Turns out he was a bibliophile and tobacco-phile, just like me. We started a book club that’s now been meeting for almost two years. We’ve gone on a fishing trip together (though my fishing abilities are equivalent to my ability for filtering what comes out of my mouth). In other words, I don’t fish well. But we’re going on another “fishing” trip soon. Mark will catch fish and I will just enjoy sitting near the river…smoking.
Over the past weeks, I’ve been in one of my lowest places ever. My depression has been so all-consuming that I’ve really wondered how I will keep going. But once again, cigars are helping to save me. My friend Marian called my cigar habit “sacramental.” Having lost any sense of the presence of God in my life, I have, in an odd sort of way, found the things usually offered by a religious community in the cigar shop on Piedmont Road, in the Disco Kroger shopping center. I’ve found a community of people who are willing to take me as I am. Some of them seem to want to talk; some want to be in their own little world; some are regulars; some are one-timers. But it sort of feels like the bar in Cheers – a place where anyone is welcome and no one gets judged.
I love Marian’s notion of the sacramental. Routines are so important for us humans. We need those little daily disciplines that help us remember what’s really important. For me, smoking a cigar reminds me to slow down; to savor the beautiful things our world has to offer me; to embrace life in the here and now without fretting over what’s going to happen down the road. There’s always that little voice that says to me, “But Tim, what if this gives you cancer?” To which I answer, “My life isn’t exactly the sort of existence I’m hoping to prolong for 100 years, and if this kills me, it will have caused me immense pleasure along the way. It’s far more important to find a way to make TODAY worth living than to worry about what might cut my life short.”
So today I’m celebrating the sacrament of a cigar: my daily reminder that this earth has beautiful things to offer me – the cigar itself and, even more beautifully, the sense of connectedness and community that comes along with it.
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