Smell is one of the most powerful memory evokers there is.
Certain aromas and smells can transport us right back to places and people long ago.
Gardenias take me back to my Uncle Louie’s house, reminding me of my family’s somewhat annual visits from central NC to Tidewater Virginia when I was growing up. Boxwoods’ fragrance always reminds me of playing in my Aunt Frances’ yard in my hometown of Mayodan, NC. I remember when I was teaching at the Adult Learning Center in Virginia Beach and catching whiffs of a cleaning solution used by the custodial staff. It was identical to the odor of a cleaning substance in the hospital where my husband fought for his life after a head-on collision with a dump truck.
One of my guilty pleasures is walking through an airport concourse–especially the ones in large airports–and catching whiffs of men’s cologne. It’s all I can do to NOT stop every nice-smelling guy and say, “Oh, my gosh, I love the way you smell!”
This Thanksgiving, I will be spending a little time at my church, sitting down with homeless people who will be sheltering there and just having conversations with them. I just want to be Christ to them and to be a listening ear.
I was sharing this with someone recently who told me to place Vick’s VapoRub under my nose.
So the body odors wouldn’t cause me to gag.
Now, this person meant no harm and was not making light of the situation. They were being honest, and as I thought about that, I decided it probably wasn’t such a bad idea. My gag reflex can kick in pretty quickly when I encounter a really bad smell, much like the time I was working with low-income single mothers and nearly wretched every time I entered one particular woman’s apartment.
But the longer I thought about it, I decided to NOT put that ointment on my upper lip.
Because I want to inhale the scent of suffering.
I’ll admit… I’ve never suffered the way a homeless person has suffered.
I’ve always had a home and family and a car and money in the bank. Yes, I’ve been through some pretty challenging life events–especially in my early adulthood– but I’ve enjoyed good health, wonderful friends, and fulfilling work.
I’m comfortable; and in the evenings, I can watch something on Netflix or Amazon Prime or write on my laptop, make a nice and healthy meal, and sleep at night on clean sheets on a comfy mattress in an HVAC-controlled home.
I also bathe daily.
The little things we often take for granted…
I NEED to inhale suffering. I want it to truly remind me of what I have and not take it for granted, to NOT seek more and bigger (which I don’t, but still…), to reinforce that there is suffering right in my backyard, and I can be Jesus to the suffering.
The smell of poverty, of homelessness, of desperation…
Maybe we all need to take a big inhale… without VapoRub masking it.
Amy Walton is a certified coach, registered yoga teacher, trainer, and writer who lives in a comfortable home, but could use a strapping man to help her with home repairs. It helps if he’s wearing nice cologne. Connect with her at email@example.com.