The Cessation of Smoking and Other Proposed Resolutions

First off Happy New Year everyone! May it be healthy, prosperous and joyous. I hope all of you enjoyed the festivities. Where I live the roads and stores were unusually quiet today. People must be sleeping in, recovering from too much fun, watching football, etc. I’m not big on resolutions, but I do like some variations on the theme. My church has a service on New Year’s Eve where we right down the things we wish to let go of and the slips of paper are placed in a burning bowl. I also find appealing the idea of intention, thinking and visualizing a happier year, a happier tomorrow.

I have been toying with the idea of stopping smoking. I know! It’s bad! Terrible and no one should do it! Ever! I don’t smoke much at all, one really can’t since there aren’t many places that it’s allowed. I stop and start. In the past I haven’t had any trouble quitting. This last stint started when I was spending time overseas in a country where it’s allowed everywhere — even that’s changing. Now it’s time to quit again, but I’m not sure why this time around I feel a mild trepidation. I’m probably overthinking it. One friend, who was never a smoker, and I think privately sees herself as a bit of a psychology expert, asked me in a super serious hushed tone, “Why do you think you smoke?” Because I like it.

It’s that simple! Even Freud said sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. I’ve been given an assortment of advice from former smokers: chew nicotine gum (revolting), stop cold turkey, stop gradually (impossible), take Chantix (the side effects are alarming), and so on. Once again my friend Will offers some amusing advice. We were talking about it, and I have to admit that my first reason for quitting was monetary. I calculated how much it costs if I average out how many packs I purchase in a year. I mean it’s a lot of money! Will nodded understandingly and said, “The main reason I stopped smoking was because I could afford to drink more.” (!) His advice was to stop. Just stop. He also suggested getting Trader Joe’s tea tree toothpicks in cinnamon flavor and chew on those. It sounds like a good idea, but how is that going to look? Do I have to do that in private? Otherwise I look like some old guy in a movie about the Mafia. Will’s other advice: crème brulee lattes from Dunkin Donuts. I had one and it was delicious, but it wound me up for hours. My favorite parting words of wisdom from Will were, “You may want to stay away from people for the first few days.”

Clare Irwin


A Shower of Gold

Last Sunday as I was walking up to the entrance of our church, our young priest was outside to greet us. He was in his immaculate white cassock with an dark apple green surplice, and fastened around his waist was a white cincture cord tied in a luscious knot. Behind him the sun was shining through an oak tree that was blazing red, yellow, orange. It was a magnificent panoply of color and light.

As I made my way to my pew, to settle in and let go and breathe, I had a memory that I hadn’t had for a long time. My grandfather, my mother’s father, was staying with us during the fall. He was ill, gravely ill we were soon to learn. He was a lovely man, charming, affectionate, outgoing, funny  and easygoing — everyone loved him. He was also a bit of a Beau Brummell, but in a good way, he always looked amazing and he made it look easy. But that fall his heart was failing him, and maybe in the back of all of our minds we knew it.

My grandfather would sit in my father’s study which had a nice comfortable chair that seemed to ease his distress. The chair faced a window which looked out onto the fairly vast front lawn of my family home. Right near the window was a very old and very large oak tree — majestic and much loved. We had all climbed it, swung on it, and the tree tolerated us all. Every fall it would turn the most exquisite shade of brilliant yellow gold and the glow would fill the room with a warm cast. I remember my grandfather sitting in the chair with the light was hitting the tree just right, and it was a vision moment like the one I just described from last Sunday where I think we really see — we see the true perfection of all things. My grandfather was wearing a camel hair sweater and an oxblood ascot and he looked wonderful. He had these lovely light hazel eyes and he was staring out onto the view. I remember him remarking to us how beautiful a sight that tree was, with the golden leaves still on the branches and the glorious pool of yellow leaves beneath. It gave him comfort and his remark compelled us to look at the beauty which we took a little bit for granted because it had always been there. We all surrounded him, standing by his chair or sitting on the floor beside him, and we all shared the moment.

He died at the end of November — his heart was enlarged — too big my mother said. I think of that moment with all of us there and fast forward to now. Everyone, except me, is gone. I see that image and there is almost a cinematic effect of each of the players in the tableau gradually fading and disappearing. The house is gone too, and that tree that stood for so many generations is gone as well I am told. It’s a precious memory. I remember then, and it still reminds me of it now, of the myth of Danae. Apparently Zeus fell in love with this princess and impregnated her with Perseus by visiting her in the form of a shower of gold. There are quite a few ancient depictions and Renaissance paintings of this myth but I think my favorite one is Titian’s.

I haven’t read all of Freud, but some, and wonder how he missed the heavy “symbolism?” of this myth. We all know that the Oedipal one has been done to death, and for those more interested, the Electra one as well. Just wondering what Freud would have made of it. But the encounter of Zeus and Danae I suppose was glorious, and it yielded a great hero. For Danae the shower of gold was an entrance into fecundity and birth; it was the inverse for my grandfather — those were his last days until he exited our lives but not our hearts. But the tree, our giving tree, and that my grandfather was surrounded by his children and grandchildren and his wife, my grandmother, whom he adored – I think eased his passage, and he enjoyed the splendor of his shower of gold.

Clare Irwin

P.S. I also love Correggio’s and Klimt’s interpretations of Danae….