No one ever taught my grandfather yogic breathing exercises, but he still used his breath to break up the endless routine of his days: he lit it on fire and watched it exit his body and float upwards. Smoking was a bad habit, fueled by a chemical addiction, and it ultimately claimed his life. But I like to think that he thought about something of consequence when he was alone, watching the orange cherry burn at the end of a butt. Perhaps he too wondered why he was there to smoke or think at all. I never rue the fact that my grandfather was a smoker. I just wish that he had told me what it was he saw when he was alone with his thoughts and his cigarettes and his painful memories and his hopes and his need to light up. What was it that he learned through the years of smoke? Was he afraid at the end of his life? And were those few extra months spent attached to an oxygen tank worth the agony of quitting, the hypnosis tapes, the staple in his ear?
Whenever I smell cigarette smoke now, I think first about my grandfather, then about how many inhalations I have left, and I slow my breath and breathe in deliberately and savor the filling of my lungs. And then, when I cannot possibly take in any more air, I exhale slowly, slowly, slowly.
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