Thursday, March 31, 2011
For a very long time, a young man who lives in the building next to mine has been smoking in our doorway, creating noxious conditions for non-smokers. I am well versed in the dangers of second hand smoke as I grew up with it, and have had pneumonia five times. My brother suffered from asthma as a child, unsurprisingly, as we were daily victims of our father's chain smoking at home and in closed cars. Walking out of my building through clouds of blue smoke every day has make me angry, and has also made my hair and clothing stink on a regular basis.
Yesterday, after glaring at our neighbor for months, I finally summoned the courage to ask him not to smoke in front of our door. I was prepared to back up my request with the fact that a San Francisco ordinance makes it illegal to do so within 18 feet of a door or window, but tried to find words which would not be overtly hostile.
"Would you please not smoke in front of our door?" I said. He replied, "I don't. I smoke in front of my own door." I said, "Well, it seems as if you're over here a lot, too." He said, "Is the smoke getting into your apartment?" "Yes." "Oh, sorry. I won't smoke there anymore," he said. I thanked him and went on my way, quite stunned at how nice he was about it. He is also so young that my maternal instincts fluttered for a moment, but I refrained from lecturing him on the effects of smoking. Quit while I was ahead.
Today, I noticed him puffing away on the far corner, across the street, his back to my building. I almost felt bad for banishing him, so I walked over and said, "I just want to thank you again for being so nice yesterday." He smiled and said, "There are lots of other places I can smoke." I continued, "I hesitated to mention it because I know everyone is mean to smokers. I don't hate smokers, I just hate smoke." Exhaling like a chem trail, he said, "No problem."
I've been hating him for months, and it was so unnecessary. I could have saved myself all that angry energy if I had manned up and mentioned it sooner. How could I have forgotten that most people are really nice if given a chance to be? I don't think we'll be Facebook friends or go to movies together, but now I'm sending good thoughts his way, and it's such a relief. Some of life's lessons come from the most unexpected places.