Wednesday, December 14, 2005

White Smoke

No, this is not about "Habemus Papam!" -- or, for that matter, "Habemus Rectum!" (More about the latter on the other side of my nightly nap.)

I will admit something to you: Over drinks or the other rare moments of relaxation I get every so often, few things say "chill out" like a good cigarette. Not that I'm necessarily proud of that, but there is something enjoyably meditative about it. And a big reason behind the relaxing quality of it is my preferred white smoke.

When I was a freshman in college, the bad habits of friends brought me into contact with cloves. Clove cigarettes are imported from Indonesia; they're known for their pleasing scent (it's akin to incense, which might be why I enjoy them so much), even though they inspire diametrically opposed reactions of love or hate, depending on the person. Each clove brand is marinated in a distinct "sauce" containing a unique blend of spices, spirits and other good stuff. After some experimentation, I discovered Sampoerna Mild cloves -- smooth on the throat, a real treat with a great smell cooked in a sauce of rum and cinnamon.

So, as I do when feeling so inclined, I went to my trusty tobacconist the other day to pick up a pack and, to my great chagrin, was informed that Sampoerna had been acquired by a new owner which had decided to stop selling their products in the United States.

This is horrific.

So as I try to figure out ways to circumvent our good American trade regulations, I remember the many memorable moments which took place with a clove in hand. And the most salient one for this forum came from, what else, a post-game wind-down following an ecclesiastical function at which I was so privileged to preside over the salon which on this evening was comprised of three bishops, one bishop-to-be and a handful of presbyters. (Oh, my!)

Sitting there among the brethren, swapping the war stories, some good red wine churning and a mild in my paw, I saw out of the corner of my eye a flash of brown moving across the lobby.

It was the archbishop of Boston.

Quickly excusing myself, because I just had to have a Sean O'Malley experience, I zipped toward him. As I was eager to pay my respects, the existence of something called an ashtray and something else called a fire code completely eluded me in the moment, so the burning stick couldn't go anywhere. And I wasn't about to stamp it out on the floor or puff it in this unexpected Presence.

So I just stood there, spoke with him for a few minutes, and it was an experience of grace -- the incense-esque whiff of the clove didn't hurt in giving the encounter an added element of mystique. The archbishop seemed overwhelmed with the task of rebuilding, but at the same time genuinely interested in the conversation which had suddenly presented itself. I found him immeasurably sweet and gracious, conveying in his words and in his spirit the sense that he is the kind of person who accepts others as they are, even those who inadvertently stumble upon him in hotel lobbies with a cigarette in hand.

Bilateral moral of the story: 1. Sometimes, contrary to popular wisdom, bishops and cigarettes do mix (this is even more true when cigars are involved). 2. For the life of me, I can't say a bad word or make any imprudent demands of Archbishop Sean -- and if I ever dared do so, then may I be made to suffer the penance of having to walk a day in his sandals.