Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Kindness in the Smoking Section

Nothing warms my heart more than the generosity and warm-hearted camaraderie that exists in the smoking sections of the places I frequent.  

Today I went to Common Ground Coffee Shop on Fulton street, which was my favorite place to work on the research papers I wrote during my time at Calvin College.  I was feeling stressed and in need of a cigarette.  I had a couple of quarters in my pocket and figured it was worth asking the gentlemen at the next table if he would let me buy one of his American Spirit cigarettes.  As I passed by him, carrying my glass of espresso, I asked, "could I buy a cigarette from you?" 

"Oh, just have one."  was his kind response as he stopped his reading to pick up and offer me his blue sided pack of American Spirits and his bright red lighter. 

In my experience this is the norm for the smokers I come into contact with in Grand Rapids.  There exists a culture of caring for one another.  The smokers have a sub-culture that subverts the standard American paradigm, which pushes people to guard their time and possessions from strangers and even from those closest to them. 

The "smoke pits" at Calvin College are the same.  Here students from different years and different majors come together.  What they know they have in common is smoking, what they find is that they have in common is that they thrive when they can sit and talk, focusing on each other rather than on a television or computer screen.   Smoking gives people a break for the grind and reminds them that people have value.  

I remember hearing of an article, written by a Calvin Student for their Campus paper, the Chimes.  The Article was titled, "Christ in the Smoke Pit"  I never saw the article, but I trust it dealt with how the smoke pits are a place where people can exemplify Christian love in that people took an interest in one another and cared for one another.  Whether that meant that people were willing to share or that they were willing to sit and listen to one another. 
I hear that some body at Calvin College is pushing to remove smoking from it's campus altogether, that makes me sad.  I'm sure the administration sees the smoke pits as ugly tumors on their progressively neater and more suburban looking campus.  In my experience the smoke pits exemplify what the college should be all about.  

Smoking is dangerous and I don't mean to promote it here.  I personally have found a way to understand a cigarette here and there as a way to connect with friends of mine that are social smokers, but I don't mean to be an advocate tobacco.  What I do mean to advocate for is communal care and genuine interest in one-another.  The smokers at Common Ground and the smoke pits at Calvin College exemplify an interested and caring attitude, which I wish were more normative to human experience.  Smoking is by far not the best way to subvert American individualism.  In a perfect world smoking would probably be replaced with more things like pickup volleyball games, spontaneous poetry slams, or other lawn sports.  


  1. Jamie Postma responded thusly:

    "... It's too bad we need something as harmful as cigarettes to force us to learn concepts of caring and sharing."

    I agree with Jamie. It sucks that we need cigarettes to turn us on to a culture of caring. It sucks that we are only comfortable selflessly-sharing cigarettes with strangers instead of hugs, bread, or money. It sucks that we can't leave a large social situation to talk in smaller, more intimate, settings unless we have an excuse like smoking.

  2. Most people who claim to be Christ-like have few of the characteristics of Christ; tolerance, patience, good will. So something as simple as a cigarette can bring two strangers together. Why couldn't something as simple as being humans being strangers together? Where is the charity in everyday life?