At the appropriate time every year (more or less, depending on if I actually look at the calendar and realize "Oh, geez, it's almost New Year's!"), I sit down and make my annual New Year's resolutions.
Top of the list, every year, without fail since I was in my 30s, is the resolution to quit smoking.
I mean, I really feel like that's an important thing to do, has long-term health implications and is just the sort of decision I ought to commit to. So, every year, that's the first thing I set out to do.
There is, however, just a tiny little bit of fine print that bears mentioning: I don't smoke.
Never have. But I also decided early on that it's good to get to checkmark at least one resolution right away, just so you can have that sense of accomplishment. And if I can get that first one done, it sort of gets me off the hook so I don't have to learn a foreign language or how to play the guitar or read "Moby Dick" or any of the other things I resolve to do that I don't actually do.
A note: No one wants to read "Moby Dick." It's about 3,000 pages long and you could literally use it to kill a whale. Herman Melville probably got about halfway through it and decided "Forget it, I'll just watch the movie."
Now, of course, a better resolution might be "not telling the same story over and over again." But, I've reached the age where I don't necessarily remember to whom I've told all my stories, so some of you might just have to skip ahead. My grandkids can listen to the same book read over and over again, so when do we outgrow that?
I would also offer that my decision not to smoke isn't driven by some nobler desires or athletic aspirations. It is, however, driven by the fact that, at that time at which most people begin smoking, I couldn't afford it. Or at least I had other ideas about how to spend whatever a pack of cigarettes cost. So I ascribed to Mark Twain's observation that it's easier to stay out than get out, so I never started.
I started thinking about all this the other day when a person of roughly the same age as myself passed away unexpectedly. After the initial expressions of shock and dismay, the question that kept being asked was "Did he smoke?"
Now, I get it. Smoking is exceptionally bad for you and can either kill you or amplify what does. It's a terrible habit. Quit now or never start. You have other people to think of, and you should. But it's not the only reason people die, unexpectedly or not.
It seems that, at a certain point in life, the enormity of what awaits at the conclusion becomes so vast and real that we seek to delay its inevitability and relative proximity by trying to find causes that don't apply to us. One of our peers died earlier than expected, but he sort of brought it on himself by firing up those lung darts. We don't partake, so it won't happen to us. Yet, some day, it will.
Same with covid. Literally thousands of people died during the pandemic, and many of those deaths could have been (and many more are) prevented by a readily accessible vaccine whose development was nothing short of a miracle of modern science. You know, the sort of thing we used to celebrate rather than politicize.
Yet, when we discuss covid deaths, some bright soul will inevitably pipe up with "the majority of deaths were among the old and those with preexisting conditions." Which is true. And is also not the reason they died. They died of a disease. Statistically speaking that's who dies of most diseases, yet we don't stop trying to cure or avoid those.
The end is tragic, whether it's a relatively young person who smoked or the victim of a disease or a 96-year-old great-grandmother who led a very full life of service to her nation. We mourn. Placing blame on circumstances as a way of deflecting from the fact that it comes for us all is at best pointless and, at worst, somewhat cruel.
And I am as guilty of that as anyone. Maybe I should resolve not to. Right after I finish "Moby Dick."