By Jon David Cole
It’s late at night, and I’m at my shop alone. The floor is littered with tobacco leaves—scraps of burleys, Virginias, and Latakias. My hands stink of black Cavendish. I’m desperate for the right proportions. I put my hair up in a tail—it’s time to focus. My tongue feels like sandpaper. I’m getting frustrated. I load up my pipe one more time. I strike a match. Puff.
Magic. The perfect pipe tobacco!
My name is Jon David Cole, and I’m a tobacconist. I have the privilege of waking up each day and blending pipe tobacco for the world’s most interesting people. It’s a strange job and one I never planned on. But I couldn’t be happier.
The anecdote above often describes mixing tobaccos and developing the next exciting pipe blend. It’s frustrating and meticulous, but so, SO fun. Being a tobacconist, however, is about much more. Pipe smoking is a funny thing. If you think about it, it’s pretty much the complete opposite of our modern world. It’s the anti-Twitter. Pipe smoking is slow. It’s deliberate. It’s tedious. It requires patience. And you have to work for the reward. Pipe smoking is about process. And I’m convinced it saves peoples lives.
You see, pipe smoking forces a man to slow down. It forces you to be present, to practice self-awareness. Selecting a tobacco, choosing a pipe, packing a bowl, striking a match, and staying conscious enough to rhythmically tamp and puff. To enjoy your pipe, you must be intentional. And being intentional is a respite for the modern man.
In the world today, we are so distracted and confused. Our heart is constantly being pulled this way and that—searching for something stable on which to build its foundation. Our desire for security is not helped by a 24 hour news cycle or a never-ending Facebook feed. We stay so disconnected from who we were created to be. And certainly disconnected from the Creator, himself.
Thomas Merton was a monk that died in 1968. As a great Christian thinker of the 20th Century, he had a lot to say about recovering a sense of our humanity in the light of a loving, present God. Discussing contemplation once, he wrote,
“The first thing you have to do, before you even start thinking about such thing as contemplation, is to try to recover your basic natural unity, to reintegrate your compartmentalized being into a coordinated and simple whole and learn to live as a unified human person. This means that you have to bring back together the fragments of your distracted existence so that when you say ‘I,’ there is really someone present to support the pronoun that you have uttered.” (The Inner Experience: Notes on Contemplation, 3-4).
Learning how to “reintegrate” and to live as “a unified human person” has been transformative for me. It’s deliberate. It’s intentional. It’s wrought with work and frustration. It’s the antithesis of our modern world. But, as with the pipe, the reward is worth it. We recover a sense of wholeness, knowing that we are made in the image of God; and we recover an understanding of the deep, deep well of his grace. We, as men, can build a permanent foundation on Him.
My hope as a tobacconist is that as people smoke the work of my hands, they take the time to think. To slow down. To meditate. And, in so doing, recover a sense of self. And to regain a sense of who they were made to be.
Jon David Cole will be a regular contributor to The Bird & Bear Blog. You can also listen to his entertaining and informative podcast, Country Squire Radio. http://www.podasterynetwork.com/countrysquireradio/
If you’d like to purchase any of Jon David’s tobacco blends, please visit: http://www.thecountrysquireonline.com/pipe-tobacco/