On a populous morning cotton balls flow around my feet. He asks for a lighter. Someone asks for a spare cigarette. He clasps his hands around the end, begging the flame to life. Is it lite yet? Lighter? Spare? How many will you smoke today? The liturgy of our simple scene is built around questions. The lighter is missing because it is hiding. We use its life blood to kill ourselves and it would be an irony if it was not so expected. Here’s a lighter. Here’s an extra. The smoke disappears into the morning.
Rituals surround us. I have my own: every day is another to resist an occasional positive thought. My coworkers have their own: smoking. To ridicule such rituals is easy; I seek to understand them. Each person deals with the ashes in their own way. Some take away the ash with an abstracted tap. Others take the time to roll the cigarette in the ash tray. The first is sloppy. The second is meticulous but hygiene becomes an egg broken in the name of a well manicured omelet. Some blow the smoke out with a long sigh. Others do it in short bursts punctuated by a laugh, a contemplative scratch or words.
If the tobacco is a burnt offering who is it going to? I refrain from speculating. They are our’s and only that I am sure of. The waft of smoke is the incense. Our church is the lawn and we, unintentionally, find ourselves recreating the early Christian Church where no one stood above anyone else. Christianity is an ordering of the world enigmatic. The Fathers built rituals to fit reality. What is the reality of Christianity? Some say the appearance of Jesus Christ. Our reality is less momentous and I refrain, again, from saying anything definitive. But I would like to play with it because our ritual is its own ordering.
Smoking tempts with the knowledge of good and evil. Smoking‘s original sin is its cunning, its patent insincerity. A single white stick, limping out of the corner of your mouth, implies a wordliness—perhaps outright bitterness—that is as useful for the local watering hole as it is for Hollywood. Is wordliness this ritual’s goal? If so Adam and Eve had a tree, we have a shrub and we need no other commentary on the degradation of modern life. It could be my own arrogance but I see something more. I see an intimacy that is out of step with the modern lives we all lead. When was the last time you offered a burnt offering in unison with another person, or several other people?
I cannot detect where the intimacy takes off when the wordliness ends, but I assume that it is roughly equal parts of both.
They are our sirens. If we breathe a little too deeply of their song we will die, if not by drowning but by sadder means. In the Odyssey there is no description for the Sirens; Ovid described them as reddish-plumed birds with virginal faces; Apollonius of Rhodes described them as women from the waist up, the rest a bird, for Tirso de Molina „half women, half-fish.” For our purposes we must remember that the sirens attracted and led sailors astray and that Ulysses was tempted by promises of knowledge of all things in the world. Does a siren need to be a beast? I think not. We now know that sirens never were, there was only ourselves.
Cigarettes pretend to be our royal friends. They are clothed in gold, neatly packaged and trimmed. The only problem is that they are trying to kill us. Our desire is another siren. But, again, even as they chew a few cigarettes and suck the life out of lighters there is no expectation that they are living a healthy life. There is no irony and only sincerity. I think that is the building block of every religion and why, ultimately, that they are at a service. Not at a service to God but maybe to us, throughout the world, or other gods. Smoking saw the advent of Christianity and it will certainly see it off.