“I’ve just about had it. I need a cigarette. Do you want to join me?”

"I thought you didn’t smoke?"

"Well, I don’t really, but I fake smoke. I love it because it lets me take a break from the situation, where I can inhale and exhale, regain some focus.”

Debbie Griffith
Debbie Griffith

Fake smoking is fun for me, and it’s not an unhealthy habit. When I’m in a tense or complicated situation, I pretend to take a puff out of a cigarette and then exhale. Someone always notices and guffaws or giggles. I usually end up in a conversation about my habit of fake smoking and its benefits. I’ve had many people open up to me during a fake smoke break about their crazy-hard life dramas like heartaches over their children, marriage or even an addiction. I simply offer what we all need to hear: “You’re not alone, and there’s hope.”

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Then we inhale and exhale and try to gain some perspective on the situation. Call me crazy, but it works.

Many times, I’ve found myself screaming on the inside, “It’s not fair!” But as I’ve stopped screaming and started listening, I’ve discovered fake smoking is a way to connect and bring laughter, empathy and compassion to someone in need. This is the basic core of love: “Love is kind.” Everyone we meet is fighting a hard battle and we all need to know that, “This too will pass.” We need to hear we are loved right where we’re at and not where we or someone else thinks we should be. We all need to let go of the “should” in our lives and have a so-called "cigarette."

I love people. A college friend used to say, “Who has more fun than people?” True. I try to find the fun in every situation I’m in, no matter how painful or hard it is. If it’s not fun, I’m done. Okay, so I’m at T.J. Maxx in Fargo just chatting up a storm with a few people waiting in the checkout line with me and Kelly, who manages behind the counter, notices and says, “Well, you’re fun!” “Well, you’re fun for recognizing fun,” I say. We proceed to talk about things we love and have in common, like the theatre. We list our favorite musicals and of course we sing and dance. It doesn’t look like we’ll have time for a "cigarette" break but we do have time for a selfie. We exchange phone numbers and Kelly ends with, “We’ll be besties for the resties!”

Once I posted our selfie on Facebook there arrived a splash of comments from people who recognized Kelly; they all raved about what a great student he was, a committed employee, his fun friendship and his enthusiasm and his love for others. Clearly, Kelly was making a positive difference in the lives of others.

Our lives leave a legacy. How we treat others, not our wealth or accomplishments, is the most enduring impact we can leave on earth. We need to be our real selves. People in pain need our compassion and time more than our solutions. Solutions have their place, but it’s usually after we have crossed the bridge into understanding. The difficult paths we’ve traveled in pain, confusion and loneliness are experiences that can be the bridge to let others know they’re gonna be okay and they’re not alone.

Make it a habit to find time in your day to inhale and exhale. Take a break from the situation, and help someone else do it, too. Find the gifts you have that make you unique and then find ways to use and share those gifts. Practice being thankful for what you have instead of whining about what you don’t, and you’ll be a much wiser and happier individual. Pause. Breathe. Relax. Being real and transparent is beautiful. Relationships are what life is all about.

Remember love leaves a legacy. We are remembered most for how we treated, impacted and made a difference in the lives of others. This is not a dress rehearsal. This is the show. Live in the now.

Now excuse me; I need a "smoke."

This column is a regular feature of the Detroit Lakes Tribune's monthly Faith page. Debbie Griffith is a Detroit Lakes-born speaker, radio personality and writer who now resides in International Falls, Minn.