“I Can Smell It!”


the underrated sense

It’s the sense that’s secondary to what we think are the dominant senses of seeing and hearing but its prevalence is outstanding.  We easily say to each other, “I hear what you’re saying,” or “I see the picture of your new grandchild,” but when would we ever have reason to say, “I can smell that on you.”

High school retreats inevitably ask the question, “What sense would you keep if you had to lose some.”

I can still smell my father’s cheap cigar, both in memory or when I pass someone smoking one.  It’s a rich remembrance of our family fireplace and his steady place to enjoy one after supper or after returning home from work.  Place your head on a pillow case that’s been dried by the sun and you’ll know what I mean.  A friend of mine owned the complete Aramis cologne line.  He dutifully applied it each day not knowing that its remnants remained on his clothes and that a daily application was no longer necessary.  I knew that he’d arrived before he opened the door.

We like to boast to ourselves that we’re pretty intelligent and critically thinking people.  “I see through you,” we may think to ourselves about a suspiciously made comment.  “I’ve been hearing some bad things about you,” says a parent who talked to the wrong parent about you.  The obvious senses kick in each day.  The smelling sense is the one that makes sense (no pun intended) to me because it’s deeper.  It invites us to explore not just life’s first layer but its second and third as well.  Movies, of course, rely on the obvious senses of sight and sound but when I saw “An American Quilt” I was blown away when Ann Bancroft slowly walks around her seated husband and smells adultery.  Can you smell adultery?  Perfume is a cheap way out but to rely on this unsung sense is to get to the bottom of a problem. “Something rotten in Denmark” ring a bell?

Tell me that smelling bacon in a restaurant doesn’t make you want to buy the place or the brewing coffee that you can already taste but are still waiting for or the smell we feel in the air the first days of fall.

Wisconsin’s weather has a unique scent to each season.  The fall air has this melancholy, fresh scent that tells me that one thing is ending and the other dreadful thing is about to begin, yet again.  Summer’s scent simply has smells that are warmingly relaxing.  I can smell the Florida ocean the minute I get off the plane.  Florida has a full, rich scent that envelops you.

You can live your whole faith in sights and sounds.  It can uplift you, change you and comfort you through all times of life.  I loved the church’s sights and sounds since I was young.  As I get older I’m started to smell around this faith stuff.   With all my questioning and unraveling and gathering I still grab hold of this sacred church.

I’ve been a smoker most of my life so you would think that my sense of smell is pretty well shot.  Well, you’re wrong.  I’m surprised at how much I’m able to smell, ponder and reflect upon.  At my age, I’ve pretty well got the church’s sights and sounds down pat.  It’s now the smells that I want to explore, enjoy and find even more enriching.

Oh, I almost forgot, don’t forget the smell of a new car. There’s nothing like it.

About Rev. Joe Jagodensky, SDS.

A Roman Catholic priest since 1980 and a member of the Society of the Divine Savior (Salvatorians). www.Salvatorians.com. Six books on the Catholic church and U.S. culture are available on Amazon.com.
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