In ten years of marriage I’ve only bought soap a few times. My spouse brings home hotel soap from business trips. Yes, we really are that thrifty. I know when he hasn’t been traveling much when the stash is getting low. Well, now he’s on some special assignment which requires very little travel so I’ve been buying more soap. Last time I bought the megapack of Ivory. But we are moving and I don’t want to pack much soap so I bought Dove brand because it was offered in a 2-pack.
I opened the box and suddenly I am in my childhood, stepping out of the tub in Grandma Ruth’s sea foam green bathroom. My sister and I are on a sleepover and get to sleep in the trundle bed in the pale blue guest bedroom. She has given us a bath (apparently with Dove soap), dried us off and brought out talcum body powder in a round blue container with little legs like victorian furniture and a clear plastic lid with a gold flurish on top. It has the look of belonging on a dressing table next to perfumes. Inside is a silky-topped, cottony pouf to dab powder all over our clean and shivering little selves. We are so grown up and fancy!
Just that quickly and precisely, that particular scent opens the floodgate of memory of those particular visits. Until I smelled that soap I hadn’t remembered those times in years and never with such clarity. Like a vivid dream, smell-induced memories seem to keep the mind coming back to them, lingering for days.
It’s as if our olfactory glands were hardwired to our minds, emotions and even our souls. Surely this is a gift from God. What could be the meaning of it? What are we to do with it?
It could be meant as a part of worship, a gift to be given back to him. Maybe the fragrant offerings of the Old Testiment (Exodus 30:34–38) are as much for the giver as for God the receiver. The familiar smell draws one in to remembering the promises and faithfulness of I AM. It brings back memories and stories of other times when the offering was given. The fragrance brings Israel into a place of worship, a place of remembering the provision of their Jehovah.
But it’s also possible he means it as a comfort to us as one person to another. I’m reminded of a scene late in The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. (I can’t believe this really moving scene was left out of the movie, but maybe it wouldn’t translate well to film.) Being human is hard. Being trapped in linear time is hard. But at least when we’re apart we leave our scent in our wake. [insert fart joke here] But seriously, maybe God meant it as a gift from him to give one another, a way to bond and establish connections, a part of intimacy.
Aromas can connect us with our past. They force our contemplation of what has already been, reminding us that pieces of us are in the past, and pieces of the past are still in us. In a culture that is pressing us ever-faster forward into the future, this is a comfort. This is good to know, good to remember.