Up in Smoke

Alex
Alex Harrold
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One of the things you are supposed to be able to do as you go through life is to try to live a life without regret. It isn't easy. It probably isn't even possible. Sure, the ideal life would be to live without regret. It's no good to bother to ask somebody if they have lived a life so far without regret. Regretting things isn't good for your mental health, and too many regrets would not make you very good company to be around. In a song, Sinatra sang; "Regrets, I've had a few, but then again, too few to mention." I hope it's that way with you. I'm trying to convince myself it's that way with me.

There is a regret that has been gnawing away at me most of my adult life. It has to do with one of my younger brothers, a guy I have credited a dozen times in this column for ideas he has given me. Dennis is eight years younger than me and the last of my brothers that still smokes cigarettes. At 56 years of age, he has respiratory issues that are not something I have to deal with, seeing as I gave up smoking in 1976 after nine years of puffing with the best of them. I would probably have the same interest in his health regardless of my participation in this endeavour, but the fact that he began smoking at around 10 years of age because I got him started makes it all the more important that I participate in anything I can to get him to quit. He jokes that he intends to have it inscribed on his tombstone that I killed him. The word regret fails miserably to describe how I feel about that.

You can't ignore your actions that cause you to feel remorse, whether it's the next hour, the next day, or in this case, 46 years later. We were four boys growing up together in the 50s and 60s. At one time or another, we all smoked cigarettes. Two of us quit very early on, one quit recently because of related health issues, but my brother Dennis continues the battle in spite of knowing full well the consequences. We give him great credit for trying, but frankly, I think the three of us have proven that you can get over an addictive habit if you have enough willpower and support. I can't lecture him anymore. As with all things, eventually, our reactions to the experiences we have in life are entirely up to us. I regret getting him started on smoking. I don't want to regret even more his inability to quit.

Smoking is one of those things that very many of us just don't understand anymore. It isn't like there isn't a wealth of information that we can rely on to be true that would steer us away from ever starting. For the life of me, I can't understand any young person taking up smoking cigarettes as a hobby. It has to be that whole invincibility of youth thing that we all went through that convinces some of us that smoking cigarettes isn't going to harm us. That's a far cry from the information we had 46 years ago when your parents told you not to smoke because it would stunt your growth. Apparently, a lot of us were willing to sacrifice two or three inches of height in order to take up smoking.

In the meantime, I'm stuck with this dilemma. Even though he says he's trying to quit, the fact is that he is still smoking. The first time that he smoked is my fault. There is no denying that. But once we started having children, I made the decision that they would never see me smoking. Part of being a parent was setting an example that would prove positive for the children I was partly responsible for bringing into this world. The shame is that I didn't have that wisdom to exercise on a younger brother when I was 17 or 18 years of age. It is clear, and it has been clear for a long time, that both of my younger brothers looked up to me as a sort of hero figure based on the life I was living and the things that I was involved in that they thought were cool. They are completely confident and adequate adults who do not need to look to me for any insights or wisdom that they haven't discovered on their own by now.

The failure in this tale is our inability at very young ages to realize the impact we can have on impressionable siblings or others in our private world. I was not wise enough to understand this at 17. At some stage in life, you have to ask yourself, what's the point in having all this wisdom if you don't use it? My final plea to my brother is to use the wisdom I know he has to overcome my mistake.

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  • Joe Niedzalkoski
    April 16, 2014 - 19:43

    Alex, I know what you mean.