The Buddha’s Tobacco
I lean back in the chair and exhale a long breath of thick white cigar smoke into the night sky. It rises upward, swirls in a light breeze, and disappears. I think to myself, “Damn this is a good cigar, a good night, and a good place to be for these few moments.”
Earlier today, I walked through the local bazaar, where merchants sell over-priced Pakistani knick-knacks and Chinese knock-off designer watches. I held out my arm to one of the kids running around, and he latched onto it and used it like a swing. I lifted him high off the ground. He swung and laughed as I carried him around, just as my own son does at home. It lasted just a moment, but it was a nearly perfect moment in an imperfect place. Moments are all we have—moments of laughter, moments of relaxation, moments to be alive.
It can be hard finding anything good about being in a war zone. It is hot and dirty. It smells bad, there is the constant threat of IEDs* or whatever other insane system someone has devised to maim or kill other human beings. Then there is the daily grind of guard duty and details that can feel overwhelming, never ending.
As the sweet smoke disappears, it reminds me that none of this—the smells, the sights, the sounds, the danger, and the grind—none of it is permanent. Maybe the last moment was a bad one. Maybe the next will hold something unwanted. But the present moment can be good if we are present to experience it.
How many moments will you spend somewhere you would rather not be? How many moments will you really live wherever you are? Those are two different questions. If we spend our moments in regret or worry, if we see the bad in it all, then the moments will grind by one bad day after another and we won’t really be living but existing, waiting for “real” life to begin.
But real life is here and it is now. Whatever the conditions may be there is goodness to be found even if it comes in small moments. A moment with a good cigar; a moment playing with a child; a moment with friends. Moment by moment, we live our lives. Like smoke rising into the sky, each moment will fade away into the next and the next and the next. Will you be present for the next moment of your life? It’s always up to you.
*IED: Improvised Explosive Device. IEDs may be made from a vast array of materials, from unexploded ordnance used in previous conflicts to fertilizer and fuel oil. They may be hidden underground, in culverts, in vehicles, or in vests worn by insurgents. These devices could be hiding anywhere and are one of the primary weapons used by insurgents.