young man smoking a cigarette on an overcast day

Life is hard. It can be disappointing, stressful, constrictive. But most of us find solace in some little habit or activity, to sustain us through the dark times, and lift us up during the good times.

I don’t condone smoking; as we all know, it is terrible for one’s health. But the protagonist of the novel A Passage North, by Anuk Arudpragasam, thinks of smoking so tenderly that I had to accept his habit as something deeply important to him, in this time in his life, and even to admire him for his affection.

The protagonist, a young man from Sri Lanka, understands that social interactions while going out at night are fickle and not to be relied upon. However, he knows that he can rely upon his cigarettes:

“He didn’t stop going out in the nights or trying to meet new people, but smoking allowed him to accept that there was nothing more than what was visible before him, opening the present up, making it more expansive but also more inhabitable, so that even when he returned home with none of his hopes for the night fulfilled he was consoled by the certainty of one last cigarette before bed.”

I love the part that goes “. . . opening the present up, making it more expansive but also more inhabitable, . . .” It’s so beautiful, and yet so tragic, that an external and toxic substance is used to make the present moment more open and livable. Why cannot the present be more inhabitable than it often is? (I ask this of ye gods.) But so it is, and we can’t help but empathize with the protagonist’s solace; for we all have our little habits.

For me, it is a glass of wine in the late afternoon or early evening, enjoyed while reading a book. It is a run on a day when everything in my body is operating smoothly and I have boundless energy. It is a hot bath made up with my favorite salts and scents. It is the moment before sleep when the day is done and accomplished and I am permitted to rest.

What are your little solaces?

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