In the Meaning of Liff Douglas Adams talks about all the small and not so small emotions and things that we go through in life from time to time without being able to talk about. Language can be inadequate to express all the things that we experience and without a word for something it’s almost impossible to say what we went through. There’s a Stephen King short story called “that feeling we only know how to say it in French.” It’s about déjà vu. Without this word think how hard it would be to say what had just happened. You know that feeling when you go into the kitchen to get something and you get there and you can’t remember why you are there? There’s now a word for this thanks to the meaning of liff. For guys, you know that feeling when you don’t shake well enough and it feels like a flood happened in your trousers? there should be a word for this. One of the ones I really like is to quote Zadie Smith, “that grief you feel for someone you never knew who created something beautiful that you loved.” This happens when a musician, an actor, a writer dies. It’s not exactly grief, it’s not exactly sorrow but it feels like those things. It’s the closest approximation. For those who smoke, you know that kind of missing that you only ever have for your smoking buddy when you go to the smoking zone and you are standing all alone? Deserves a word.
So there I am all alone and this old guy comes towards me and starts talking about his high school. Well, he went to high school a long, long time ago. They got a new head master once and the headmaster quickly decreed a smoking zone. He actually said that students couldn’t smoke just anywhere for safety reasons like fires starting. He designated a tree somewhere in the compound and said that was the smoking zone. So people began to go there, the brave ones and then after a while the ones who weren’t so brave. I believe even in those liberal times it must have been quite a rush to sit down and smoke with your headmaster. After some time the headmaster stopped allowing new members into the club, just those who had been there from before. A while later he said, “I think we have been smoking too much, from now we will only smoke after lunch.” Status quo changed yet again. Then he made the inevitable pronouncement, “no more smoking in my school.” Now he knew who the smokers were and could catch them quite easily.
“But for us who never went there we just continued.”
I have a bad habit, okay another bad habit, of plucking leaves as I walk past plants. I don’t know why I do this but I do. I reach down and take a bud and then throw it away. I used to have this stupid justification, right after the no-littering rules came into moral and legal effect I told myself that it was because I missed littering and the act of throwing organic material filled that hole without hurting the environment. Win-win. Of course this was stupid and not the real reason.
There are a lot of lessons to the story of Cain and Abel. It’s an epic story of jealousy and sibling rivalry. It’s a story of revenge and murder and retribution. Of sadness and sorrow sown in a kind of love we have all felt before, the one that comes from a sibling. And even only children feel this(another thing there should be a word for, what do you call people with no siblings?). It’s the love that you feel for someone who stands with you against the world, against the order that’s being imposed on you, against rules that you don’t understand and conspiratorially winks at you as you try to trick everyone else. It’s the love of a friend and to see this turned to hate and murder and the first CSI episode ever is something that we can learn a lot from. One thing that people will always say half-joke fully is that God likes meat, you see he turned down the vegetables.
I don’t think the fact of this was a throwaway remark. I don’t think it was a remark about God either. It was about what we value more and the fact that that’s what should be our sacrifice. Is there a doubt in any of our minds that a man who supposedly lived 6,000 years ago before all the arguments about vegetarianism gained vogue would have preferred a meal of meat to a meal of vegetables. There is none in my mind that Cain liked meat more than vegetables and giving his God something less than what he would have wanted is the real sin.
Why do we like meat more than vegetables? I’m going to forward a crackpot theory that I’ll throw out with the baby in a few years. It’s the same reason I like to pluck leaves out of things. There is something life affirming about death and killing. In order for us to take any breath something has to die. Food is only something that once was and without its death it would never have served us. On a more microscopic level things are dying all the time. Digestion is a process of breaking things down to their basest forms. Putting them through acid, making them smaller and smaller until they are as little recognisable as life before we then use them to build the thing that we recognise as life more than anything else, our bodies.
Things have to die in order for us to live. We don’t have to kill them, but if we do maybe we feel more alive. There is a feeling you get when you kill a chicken and its warm blood spills on the floor and then comes out in jerking spurts until its breath stops heaving- this too needs a word if only to help us identify the serial killers among us even faster. The feeling doesn’t exist for plucking a leaf from a plant, maybe it does but in such a removed infinitesimal amount that its not really the same. For most normal people the feeling changes as it gets bigger. It’s not a joyous feeling because whoever said life is joyous. It’s different and it has in it layers of disgust that fight to come to the front as the life you take gets bigger and bigger and more akin to your own. A goat is harder to kill both physically and psychologically. A pig, the way it has to be hit with a hammer so hard it passes out, the less said about that the better. A horse, a dog, a monkey. As it comes closer to us there is a lot more of the despair of life.
This is not a post about murder no matter how increasingly it looks like one but as anything that starts with smoking it’s a post about self-injury. It’s an age-old question why so many of the things that make us feel so alive also kill us. Those exhilarating, danger filled moments and times. Drinking too much, eating too much, smoking too much (I’d say sex but that doesn’t kill you it’s the attendant diseases, the side effects not the actual effects.) I read that a study showed that smokers are happier when taxes on cigarettes are increased because they become more expensive and so they smoke less. You see they really aren’t happy when they smoke. They know it’s wrong more than anyone else does. There should be a word for not being able to stop even if you know something is wrong, oh yeah addiction.