My sister smokes. A lot. There was a time when my mother couldn’t tell our voices apart; now hers is a few octaves lower than mine, deep and husky. The smell of tobacco trails her, even if she is not allowed to smoke inside the house – instead, she will try to straddle the patio door and the kitchen, blowing the smoke outside, trying to keep the conversation going while she feeds her habit.
We grew up in a family of smokers. It was my father who offered me my first cigarette when I was around 20 and I swiftly fell in love with the taste of Marlboro and Camel, intense and rich, but my addiction was short-lived: six months later my strep prone throat made it known smoking was not for me. I never smoked again.
No one in my family smokes any longer but for my sister: my father gave it up when he suffered a stroke 15 years ago and my mother stopped cold turkey in her mid-50s, literally from one day to the next, when a cough she couldn’t shake off had her worried something more serious was afoot.
Pleading the case with my sister, the way we have been doing for years, has led us nowhere. Never having experienced any form of addiction – maybe chocolate, but does that count? – I find persistent behavior that could lead to one’s harm difficult to be around. But I stopped nagging. She will come around when the time is right for her, hopefully way short of any permanent damage.
On the other hand, she could find herself awake at 3 am in Minneapolis and take a walk to a gas station for an encounter that could change her life.
Everyone who has ever had an addiction they successfully kicked will readily tell you their method is foolproof – but we are all different. Needless to say, it all starts with the brain.
Maybe the mega hit “Let Her Go” by Passenger has not passed you by the way it did me. When it comes to music, my head is buried in the sand and comes up for sounds only when forced to listen. Maybe you are one of the millions who watched the Super Bowl and saw the Budweiser ad that propelled said song to stardom. I didn’t come across it until I happened on an obscure interview with the man behind Passenger, a.k.a. Mike Rosenberg. The story he recounted made me look for his music and I was happy to see the honesty and humility that transpired from his words translated into his songs.
Rosenberg started smoking when he was a teenager and, a couple of years ago, he was trying to give it up. One night, while on tour in Minneapolis, he found himself wide awake in a cheap hotel, craving a cigarette and unable to focus his thoughts on anything else. He got up and took a walk to a nearby gas station where an older man, sitting on a motorcycle, was smoking. “Best cigarette I have ever had” the man said out loud as Rosenberg walked by. The curious and precisely timed remark gave Rosenberg pause and made him stop for a chat. The man had been recently diagnosed with lung cancer and, unsure how much longer he would have on this earth, had decided to buy a bike and move to New York to spend his remaining time with his son and grandchildren.
It goes without saying that Rosenberg went back to sleep without a smoke and didn’t touch a cigarette ever again. Instead, he wrote a song about the encounter, “Riding to New York”, and now wishes he had asked the stranger for his name, that he could play him the song.
It would be nice to think the Universe looks after us sometimes. I am nearly certain it doesn’t work that way but believing it makes it a little bit more real. Random things happen and we assign them meaning – nothing wrong with that, I suppose. Sometimes they become good dinner party stories. Occasionally, they change the course of our life. Or we get a song out of them. But this is, hands down, the best “how I stopped smoking story” I ever heard. And, as my sister’s birthday is fast approaching, I am thinking of a Southwest ticket to Minneapolis.