“Saints need sinners” Alan Watts
Back in the day I smoked cigarettes. It started during my freshman year in college. At first, I only smoked while I was drinking. In those days it was mostly laughs and good times, but the cigarettes felt like they enhanced the drinking experience. Then I started to smoke as a regular part of studying for my finals. I usually waited until the last minute to study for my final exams or write my papers. I would buy a bunch of fried food from the snack bar, drink a coca cola and smoke a pack of Marlboro Shorts.
I thought I looked distinguished, haha. I considered myself a misunderstood intellectual with a dangerous edge. I pictured myself a modern version of my favorite authors, activists and businessmen from an earlier time.
I became a daily smoker in the Spring of 2007 while I was studying abroad in Paris. At the time, many places still allowed you to smoke in restaurants. In those days the cigarette cartons had bold warnings on them that read Fume Mort (smoking kills). The aggressive massage seemed to have the adverse effect it intended. It was as if Fume Mort had come to represent a badge of honor for those that rejected government intervention. We were people that would live life on our own terms even if the terms were self-destructive.
I look back at that time now and know I wasn’t a rebel or an intellectual. I was mostly foolish, stressed out and lonely. I was trying to adjust to life and be comfortable in my own skin.
At a certain point whatever story I told myself about why I smoked didn’t matter, now I was addicted. I began to feel mood swings and headaches if I’d gone too long without a cigarette. I started to look forward to smoking after a meal, having a cigarette with my morning coffee or smoking during the walk from the transit station to the front door of my Parisian loft.
One day I quit. I wish I had a great story for how I stopped, but it was actually an accident. At the end of 2012, I came down with a severe cold. The doctor told me to avoid anything that was going to irritate my throat for the next week. That meant no coffee, soda or smoking. When I started to feel better I never bought another pack of cigarettes again.
What does it take to get over our vices? I have had other vices that weren’t as easy to stop as smoking. Some I needed help to stop. It takes a special type of courage to ask for help, but the results for getting it has been transformative. I have seen the limitations of my own will-power. I’m reminded of it when I see others that have a hard time quitting, whether it be cigarettes, overeating or whatever else they’re struggling with.
As the President of the School Board, I help oversee a large organization that involves tens of thousands of students and employees. They have needs that go beyond the learning that’s happening in the classroom. Needs that aren’t being measured by test scores and other performance metrics.
We have students attending schools today that will one day serve in elected office, become scientist or run companies. We also have students that will struggle with addiction or suffer from abuse, violence, or an illnesses they never asked for or saw coming.
Considering the needs of the whole person isn’t a new concept in public education. As a district we’ve invested in wellness centers, social workers and involved law enforcement on matters that require it. But we haven’t measured ourselves based on our improved ability to address these concerns nor have we made those accomplishments known to the public.
We have tireless public servants that continue their life saving work with the quiet satisfaction that another person has an opportunity to reach their full potential. They are the salt of the earth and have my unwavering respect.