Saturday, March 20, 2010

With the emphasis on brotherhood

There's not a whole lot of value to a pipe club, right? I mean, you show up and do nothing but smoke and shoot the bull for a few hours. The city's problems don't get solved, let alone the world's. You swap stories and try new blends, but that doesn't help you live a long, happy life despite regular use of a life-shortening leaf.
Or does it?

We talked briefly at the last meeting of The Ozark Pipe Smokers about Zack's involvement with Reel Recovery, an organization that tries to encourage physical and spiritual renewal, through a shared experience with rod and reel, in men overcoming cancer. The focus of the retreats is not on fishing but on creating emotional connections between men with shared experiences. Men have done this for years, but recently we've begun calling it "male bonding."
There are plenty of studies that show significant benefits from friendship, including 2007's "Friendship, social support, and health" by Patricia M. Sias and Heidi Bartoo and 2005's "Social networks and health: It's time for an intervention trial" by Anthony F. Jorm. To summarize very briefly, friendships not only lend themselves to promoting healthier lifestyles and aid in psychological maturity but also impact the physical body in a way that encourages good health from within.
So how does this apply to the pipe? Specifically, how can I insinuate pipe smoking is healthy when we're using that horribly dangerous tobacco?
When tobacco was used as a facet of life, along with regular meat and potato dinners, there was no reason to form a community around it. People smoked, and that's all it was. It wasn't a personal hobby, and it wasn't a communal activity. It was just something that happened while everything else was going on. The irony, then, is that by promoting the unhealthy nature of tobacco, anti-smoking activists have actually made some forms of smoking healthier.
Don't get me wrong; I'm not talking about cigarettes, but it's not simply because they're cigarettes. Bonding can't be done in a single cigarette. It can't happen during two cigarettes, each smoked in seven and a half minutes to fill up a fifteen minute work break. This also isn't about snuff or snus or chewing tobacco, all of which are intended for use during the course of the day.
Now we come to pipes and cigars. Both can be smoked in solitude, as a form of meditation or an aid to concentration or relaxation, and these benefits should not be overlooked. But then both can also draw people together for the simple pleasure of enjoying these forms of tobacco, fostering joy and friendship, fellowship and camaraderie. It is in these moments that pipe smoking may have its greatest benefits, by allowing a state of emotional and spiritual restoration through communion with others in the form of tobacco. It is akin to the sweat lodges and wilderness retreats, where men join together in brotherhood. This is the brotherhood of the briar.
This form of renewal is becoming a rarity as progress becomes history and possibility becomes the norm, as we become more familiar with David Letterman and Matt Lauer and Howard Stern than we are with the people with whom we share a city, our neighbors and our coworkers and our family and our friends.
But a simple piece of wood, a few leaves and some matches can restore the bonds of friendship and brotherhood we have left behind.


  1. Very nice Tommy. I am proud to call you my friend and enjoy having a nightly smoke with you.


  2. Very well put. The pipe and the cigar do bring people together, and it is a beautiful thing.

  3. Nicely written Tommy and I whole heartily agree :)


  4. The brotherhood of the briar sums it up Tommy, thanks for sharing.