Friday, September 30, 2016

Deep Purple but not Aquatic

Margaret, my brother, Adam's, wife  is now more than two weeks into her attempt to stop smoking cigarettes. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for her that it's her last attempt to stop and that she succeeds. (Did you know the nicotine patch comes in Christmas colors? Why would I know that, you ask. Don't ask.)

Today, twenty years ago was a Monday and here in Norwich, Connecticut, it was an evening on which our City Council met. I remember very clearly an agenda item for the City Council to formally endorse two multi-million dollar bond requests by the Board of Education to pass at referendum in November: To fund school construction and, to invest millions into information technology infrastructure for classrooms and offices across the then-eleven school buildings.

Neither proposal had been rapturously received by my fellow-citizens and neighbors and as the afternoon drew to a close, and darkness gathered, I stood at the side entrance to Norwich City Hall nervously smoking one cigarette after the other waiting for my appointment with the President of the City Council who offered to publicly endorse both bond requests if I could persuade him they were a good idea.

Norwich is big enough to hide in, but not to hide-out in and he and I knew one another. As a matter of fact, our son Patrick, delivered his newspaper to him most, if not actually all, mornings. He knew I was a big mouth and engaged in local school improvement efforts but despite all of that he was still interested in hearing about computers in classrooms.

It feels so quaint when I look at that paragraph but it was only twenty years ago. Less than twenty years previous to that, computers had been the size of rooms in your house and were called UNIVAC and other 'March of Technology' names. The infusion of converged technology into school classrooms was just starting.

Anyway, I had spent hours trying to find someone, anyone, to accompany me on my persuasion mission to City Hall. No takers. The stubbed out cigarette butts piled one upon the other in the ashtray left on the low wall separating City Hall from the surrounding sidewalk. I was lighting a new cigarette from the previous one; it was how I managed to have a three pack a day habit for twenty-two odd years.

This was decades after we knew the health risks and consequences of cigarette smoking but many years before we abandoned the mentality that 'the world is my ashtray and I can smoke anywhere.' However, I did know I couldn't smoke in City Hall (even then) as I changed the direction of my pacing outside in preparation to walking up three flights of stairs to the Council President's office.

I had time for one more cigarette before that but all my fingers found was an empty pack in my shirt pocket. And at that moment, and I'm still not sure why, I decided that my previous cigarette would be my last cigarette, ever.

The meeting went well, so well, the City Council President not only agreed to endorse the proposal, he offered to sponsor it and very publicly supported both bonds repeatedly. On Election Day, the voters approved both measures. My family survived my nicotine withdrawal for the most part; some days were longer than others, I'm sure, and I should be much more grateful for their love and support than I've ever let on, mainly because I am that guy (but I was that guy even when I smoked).

I have since figured out what to do after getting up in the morning, after having had a cup of coffee, after finishing a meal and what to do with my hands while driving. All of those things had always involved lighting up and smoking a cigarette, so I have some small sense of the struggles Margaret is going through and overcoming.

But I also know the sense of triumph she is starting to savor with every passing moment. I could warn her that even twenty years on I miss smoking cigarettes every day, but I'm pretty sure she already has an idea that will always hang over her. It's the additional quality in her life that she'll be having for every moment of it from here on in that will help assure she makes cigarette smoking history.
-bill kenny                 

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