Blog by Steve Laug
Father Tom woke up and was surprised to find that he had fallen asleep in his recliner the evening before. He remembered sipping a scotch and his pipe while thinking through the news that the doctor had given him. Even as he awoke he realized that he wanted to talk with Doctor Mac when he returned to find out a bit more clearly what he was facing. He remembered that the biopsy and scans were scheduled before Mac returned. He sighed and began to feel a bit more awake. He wondered what had happened to the scotch and the pipe. He looked down on his lap and had to laugh. His pipe had fallen out of his mouth and landed upright between his legs. He must have laid the scotch on the table before he went to sleep because it was sitting on the table next to the chair.
He put the pipe on the table next to him, stood up and stretched out the inevitable kinks that come from sleeping in a chair. He took the glass to the kitchen and made some coffee. He went to the shower while the coffee was brewing and washed away the remnants of sleep. He dried off and stood looking at himself in the mirror thinking how quickly life could change. Just yesterday as he stood in this same place he was just apprehensive as he always was when he had to go to the doctor. But today he carried with him the news of yesterday – he potentially had cancer. The awkwardness of the locum made it seem to him that potentially was a weak word and that she had believed that he did indeed have cancer. Cancer… what an awful word that conjured up many ghosts for him. He thought of all the friends he had buried who had succumbed to cancer. He knew that prostate cancer was one of the “better” cancers but it was still cancer.
The beep of the coffee pot announcing that his coffee was ready brought him out of his motionlessness. He quickly dressed, took his meds and went to the kitchen for his coffee. He filled his favourite mug with the hot brew, added a bit of cream and went back to the parlour. He picked up his pipe from the table, cleaned out the dottle in an ashtray, ran a pipe cleaner through the airway and reached for some Virginia tobacco to light up. He packed his bowl while sipping his coffee and when everything was right he touched the flame of his lighter to the tobacco. Soon he was wreathed in smoke, sipping his pipe and his coffee. He had decided that today would be a day of rest – a day when he would not go to the office or visit folks. He needed time to process what was ahead of him. He sat in silence letting the pipe and coffee both calm and waken him. He was in no rush today so the quiet was good for him.
When he had finished his coffee he refilled his pipe and got ready for a walk around the neighbourhood. He put the coffee cup in the kitchen sink, put on his jacket and cap and headed out the front door. He locked the door behind him, turned and stood on his front porch long enough to observe the life on the street in front of his house. He tamped and relit the pipe and headed down the steps and out the gate. He had decided to head over to the park around the corner from his house. There was a nice bench there and the sunny day would make that a great spot to stop for a while and think. He walked to the far corner of the park and settled on the bench under the tree there. He tamped and relit the pipe. Once again his mind went over the news that seemed to interrupt his thoughts repeatedly since yesterday. He worked over the implications of the news. He knew that nothing was certain until after the biopsy but he believed in working through the worst case scenarios first. He knew that he had lots of holiday time left because he rarely took any time off. He also could feasibly take a leave of absence to go through the recovery… hmm he thought recovery. There were just too many unknowns for him to wrap his head around. Would he need surgery or radiation or…? He had no idea. He repeated his 3rd Step Prayer of Surrender to God and puffed quietly on his pipe.
As the smoke drifted around his head and up into the trees he felt a deep quietness begin to settle into his soul. The prayer and the pipe together worked to quiet him. He knew that nothing was certain – not the cancer, not the treatment regimen, not health, not work and certainly not life. He let the uncertainty go and was able to empty his head. The smoke from his pipe was almost prayerful as it curled heavenward. It was not impeded by branches or obstacles and he had a deep sense of being heard. He sat quietly just sipping the smoke from his pipe until the bowl was empty of all but ashes. Even then he continued to sit for a while. If you had seen him that morning you would have seen and older gent with a pipe in his mouth that had gone out, a distant look in his eye and a quiet, relaxed posture sitting on the park bench.
A pair of crows flew by and their cawing called him back to the moment. He tipped out the ash from his bowl and absentmindedly put the empty pipe in his mouth. He stood up and walked up the hill and out of the park. He thought he might head over to the pipe shop and pick up some pipe cleaners and see if there was anyone there he could chat with. Maybe he would pick up another tin of tobacco but time would tell. He had a couple of lane way paths that were a short cut to the shop so he headed in that direction. He walked along quietly. His mind was no longer spinning as the time alone with his pipe and prayer had come together to bring quiet. He enjoyed the sunny day and the silence. This combination was something he sought and savoured, so the moment was perfect.
He turned down the first lane way on his short cut across the neighbourhood. He stopped and reloaded his pipe, lit it, tamped and relit it. Once it was burning well he continued on his way. Sometimes he would kick rocks or debris on the ground just for fun – reliving a childhood habit of kicking stones or cans as he walked. He kicked a crumpled bag that lay on the side of the lane expecting to hear the crackle of paper but instead it was quite solid. It had more of a thunk sound like there was a can in the bag. He was used to seeing bags in the gutters and lane ways around his home so he figured it was just an empty that someone had thrown there. He figured he would pick it up and put it in a bin nearby so he bent down to grab it. The bag was a bit heavier than just an empty can so it made him wonder what was inside. He opened the bag and peered into it. To his surprise there in the bottom of the bag laid a small round tin. It was upside down so the only thing he saw was the small price tag on the bottom. It looked like it was a tobacco tin. But there was only one way to know for sure. His curiosity got the better of him and he tipped the contents of the bag into his other hand. He had a hard time believing what was in his hand, but there it was – a sealed tin of Dunhill’s Elizabethan Mixture.
He turned the tin over in his hands examining it and he could see that the tax stamp was unbroken. He looked around to see if there anyone in the lane that could have dropped it. But the lane was empty of people other than him. There was no receipt or anything in the bag to give him a clue as to who had left the tin behind. The bag was crumpled up as if it had been pitched so it seemed like it was ownerless. It looked like it had become his. If you are a pipeman then you can imagine where his mind went now. All thoughts of his cancer or anything else were left behind. All thoughts of heading to the pipe shop were left behind. All thoughts regarding the future were left behind and he was immersed in the moment. He turned the tin over in his hands. He loved a good mixture of Perique and darkened Virginias and this was blend he enjoyed. He kept walking as he knew there was a park bench not too far away and he intended to savour the bounty of this new tin and enjoy the morning.
He got to the bench in short order. It was a great place to watch the world pass by while he enjoyed a bowl. It was not near a bus stop so he could safely smoke without being bothered by others. He looked the tin over to see if he could get a feel for the date of it… he was surprised to see that it was made by Murray’s so it was an older tin. He felt even more blessed than before – not only was it a tobacco he liked, but it also was an older tin which he liked even better. He popped the tin open with a quarter he had in his pocket and heard the characteristic puff of air as the lid lifted. He savoured the pungent aroma of the mixture and laid the lid aside. He opened the paper liner, lifted the card, held the tin to his nose and inhaled the aromas of the tobacco. To his mind there was nothing like the rich smells of a freshly opened tin of tobacco.
He loaded his pipe with a bowl of the new tobacco, tamped it lightly and gave a charring light. He tamped again and gave it another light. The tobacco caught fire and began its slow steady burn while sipped and tasted the richness of the older blend. It was a really good smoke. Soon he was lost in identifying the flavours of each of the tobaccos that made up the blend. It was a ritual that he always went through with a new tin of tobacco. It never mattered if it was one that he had before or if it was something new to him. It was a challenge to try to figure out the components of a blend as he smoked it. He sipped the smoke and let each part play its role on his tongue and mouth. All other thoughts were gone from his mind as he was lost in the moment.
When he finished the bowl, having lost all track of time he reached for his watch only to find that in the morning rush he had forgotten to put it on. He did not even have a cell phone to check. He rose from the bench and walked down the hill to the nearest Vietnamese restaurant. He suddenly realized that he had not eaten breakfast and his stomach reminded him. When he arrived he nodded greetings to his neighbours and ordered his favourite pho with meat balls and rare beef. He sipped the tea that they brought him and cleaned out his pipe on the extra napkin. He ran pipe cleaners through the stem and airway, folded them, swabbed out the bowl and put them on the napkin as well. He folded the napkin and laid it aside while he sipped his tea. He was looking forward to his bowl of soup.
The waitress served the large soup and he quietly sat and finished his lunch. He was finally at peace with what lay ahead of him. It amused him how easily a tin of tobacco could change his whole perspective. But as he thought about it he realised that the pipe and the prayer had begun the process of his surrender of something beyond his control and the tin of tobacco had merely taken his attention at the right time… ah well time to head out. He thought he might head down to the tobacco shop after all and see what they had on their shelves. He was up for a day out on a walk about. He reloaded his pipe, paid his bill and headed outdoors. He stood in the door way and lit the pipe and waited until he had a good coal going before walking. He was enjoying the day. People walked by and nodded their hellos; one older woman even said she loved the smell of his pipe as it reminded her of her dad. He stood quietly waiting for the tobacco to start burning well before he walked on.
Once the pipe was burning well, he tamped his pipe, relit it and started down the next lane way on his trek across the neighbourhood to his favourite pipe shop. Yes indeed, though much was still uncertain in terms of the days ahead for him, there was a lot to be thankful for.