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A memory from twenty years back, when I am spending a week in the United Kingdom: 

I am standing outside a classroom on the Royal Holloway college campus near Egham, England.

It is tea time, so sessions have paused in mid-flight.

I’m sipping tea in typical American fashion–without the cream–and my scholarly British comrade has just put his teacup and saucer down on top of a marble container that reads, “CIGARETTE ENDS.” That’s so he can pull a bag of tobacco out of his pocket, along with some small tissues.

He begins to roll his own cigarette.

It’s something I haven’t seen anybody do since I was a child.

Back then, my uncles would roll their own with Prince Albert tobacco–and there’s never been a more skill-laden ritual. Of course, the ritual was taken one step higher in the western movies we saw as kids–cowboys and tough guys would roll their own cigarettes, using only one hand, the other hand ready at all times to draw a six-shooter from a shiny leather holster, if the need arose.

I remember watching one of my classmates in eighth grade perform the same feat–a feat so astonishing that it could only be rivaled by magicians and guys who could spit great distances from between clinched teeth.

We kid about it, my British scholar friend and I. He says he’s never been able to roll his smokes with one hand, but that he sure does save a lot of money not purchasing pre-rolled cigarettes. I figure he’s doing himself a favor, anyhow. After all, it would be difficult to chain smoke when you have to go through such an elaborate ritual. By the time you got one cigarette rolled, it’d be time for tea to end!

When teatime does end, we go back to the very serious business of studying H.G. Wells and his life, inside the college building. That’s how I happen to be standing here several time zones away from family and hearth. I’m doing what nerds have done since time began–studying something infinitely fascinating but almost totally useless. Like H.G. Wells and Rolling Your Own. What fun!

But this little twice-a-day ritual of sipping tea and watching someone roll & lick sealed a cigarette is one of those small pleasures that will play itself in my mind for a long time to come, now that I’m safely back in the U.S. with its pre-rolled everything and its inability to take time twice a day for a simple eye-to-eye visit and a singular meditation

 © 2017 A.D. by Jim Reed

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It’s confusing some days, being human.

One moment I’m hugging my family and trying to help out by listening carefully. Another moment, I’m thinking something snarky about a dismissive associate. One moment, I’m being critical of the very person I admire. Next moment, I’m feeling sympathy for the dismissive character, trying my best to see things from his point of view.

Throughout my time on Planet Nine, I’m never of one opinion, one attitude. My observations and proclivities hop around, probably dependent upon how comfortable I feel about myself. Probably just a symptom of mishmashed DNA.

Jekyll one time, Hyde the next.

I think about Reverend Harry Powell’s right hand of LOVE versus his left hand of HATE.

I ponder Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s idea of Interrelatedness, his belief that we are all related, the good, the bad, the indifferent…and that we get along much better when we decide to embrace.

I can’t get Atticus Finch’s words out of my kindly-but-snarky mind, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Am I naughty and nice all rolled up into a prickly bale? Am I more nice than naughty?

As Bryan Stevenson tries to teach us, “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”  To paraphrase, each of us is more than the best thing we’ve ever done. We are just plain complicated and contradictory.

My only self-salvation is to try to end each day hoping the good things I’ve accomplished outnumber the snarky things that creep about.

Maybe I should tattoo KINDLY on my right hand, SNARKY on my left, as a constant reminder that I feel better about myself and you and the world itself each time kindly defeats snarky by at least a hair’s breadth

 © 2017 A.D. by Jim Reed

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