My daughter loves the smell of skunk.
Few of us share that predilection. One whiff of serious skunk and we’re wondering if we’d really be spiting our face if we cut off our nose. Wouldn’t our face understand? Probably not—our sense of smell anchors us in the world, connecting us to the people we love and alerting us to danger. Those who suffer from anosmia, the inability to detect smells, truly do not know what they are missing.
We are, of course, a culture preoccupied with pleasing scents. Real estate agents bake chocolate chip cookies during open houses. People snatch cans of New Car Smell from store shelves. And now there’s the oPhone, developed by a French company called Le Laboratoire. Users of this new technology can combine scents and send them over the phone: it’s aromatherapy to go. The company, which also created Le Whif, a calorie-free chocolate spray, clearly appreciates the power of smell—and hopes its new phone will affect us on a cellular level.
There is a lot to be said for the sensitive use of scent to calm or to rouse. For me, however, the most intriguing thing about our sense of smell is the way it is linked to memory, the way a sudden scent can plummet us into the past. Even if we have never cracked the spine of a volume of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, many of us are familiar with the story of his adult narrator who goes into memory free fall on biting into a madeleine—it evokes the world of his boyhood, which he then shares, at length, with the reader. (Must have been lots of sugar in that cookie.) No doubt the oPhone company could reproduce that proustian aroma, but when it comes to smell and memory, part of the charm is in its serendipity. When we chance upon a smell that evokes a pleasurable past, for that moment we transcend time and space, and memories of our unique past inform our present. And for some lucky few, a skunk is simply a rose by some other name.
Your legacy is the fragrance of your life that remains when you yourself are not present.
Daniel Taylor, Creating a Spiritual Legacy