01 / March
01 / March

I'm a practicing Catholic who needs more practice. To that end, I've given up cigars for Lent. The cold months result in an involuntary cessation of my disgusting but delicious habit. I'm not such a brute as to smoke cigars inside my house (at least I haven't been such a brute since my wedding day), and since the cold keeps me indoors more, wintertime is not cigartime. So, forgoing cigars as spring approaches will be quite a sacrifice. I like to read outdoors, and things just won't be the same without Swisher Sweets or some pricier, but not much better, brand.

But this is probably for the best. Twelve years ago, I gave up alcohol as a New Year's resolution for January. Then January became February, and based on February-is-the-shortest-month reasoning I continued my teetotaling ways. Lent that year arrived in February, and I decided to extend my personal prohibition era until Easter. By the time Easter rolled around, I had decided to join the Marines. You can't drink in boot camp, so what started out as a 31-day pledge turned into eight, alcohol-free months. It was an extremely productive time in my life. I set goals and achieved them. I made major decisions that changed the course of my life. I expunged a lot of foolishness from my life.

I highly recommend such life-altering sacrifices, but not on a permanent basis. Life is more "end" than "means," and constantly denying oneself life defeats a major purpose of life: living. For more than a decade, cigars have been part of living for me. Before they become part of dying, I would be best served to part company with them forever. Might Ash Wednesday of 2006 mark the day I serve cigars with divorce papers? I don't know.

Unlike alcohol, I find that cigars help instead of hurt focus. When Ayn Rand pointed to the fire at the end of a cigarette and said it symbolized the fire blazing in the smoker's mind, I can't say that what I read outraged me. Smoking is on the whole terrible for your health, but in my experience smoking--cigars at least--is good for concentration, contemplation, and relaxation. Thus, I can't say that 2006's lenten sacrifice will be as beneficial to my productivity as 1994's lenten sacrifice.

As I wrote Intellectual Morons, I sometimes unknowingly went through five cigars in a day. I haven't smoked a cigar since I was in Krakow in late January, and my productivity has not suffered in the absence of tobacco. This is probably an aberration. I worry about the impact my lenten decision will have on the deadline of my next book. I welcome the impact my lenten decision will have on the cells inside my mouth.

But perhaps I miss the reason for the season. Sacrifice may incidentally improve physical or mental health. But that is not the purpose, at least for sacrifices offered up to God. Two thousand years ago, a man sacrificed something more than cigars and beer. To remember his sacrifice, if one believes that sacrifice was made to redeem us all, one sacrifices--even if the gesture is as paltry as tobacco or beer.

posted at 12:28 AM

Good luck with that, Dan. Thanks for the post on Lent.

Lest we think it is all sack cloth and ashes, remember the third pillar of Lent, (after prayer and fasting) that of almsgiving.

It is through this third action that we really feel the glow of God within ourselves, and can experience His granduer.

A man may easily be forgiven for not doing this or that incidental act of charity, especially when the question is as genuinely difficult and dubious as is the case of mendicity. But there is something quite pestilently Pecksniffian about shrinking from a hard task on the plea that it is not hard enough. If a man will really try talking to the ten beggars who come to his door he will soon find out whether it is really so much easier than the labour of writing a cheque for a hospital." GK Chesterton, "What's Wrong With the World"

Posted by: The Distributist on March 1, 2006 01:58 PM

Great Lenten reflection Dan! I hope you and yours have a "mortifying" Lent and joyous Easter.

Posted by: Brian on March 1, 2006 03:37 PM

I gave up Jesus for Lent.

Posted by: Judas Iscariot on March 1, 2006 11:11 PM

Smoking is worse for you than other, "harder" drugs. Freud had part of his jaw removed due to cancer; my mother, part of her tongue.

Posted by: Jeremiah on March 2, 2006 01:53 AM

True, Jeremiah, but you have to do a heck of a lot of smoking before that happens, and it doesn't detract from the good life very much in the meantime. In contrast, it only takes a few months of smoking pot to turn someone into a inert hippie loser.

Posted by: skeptic on March 2, 2006 10:00 AM

I smoked a (tobacco!) pipe for a little while, and, yes, lighting up a stogie is a fine way to take in an early evening walk.

Posted by: Jeremiah on March 2, 2006 11:42 AM
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