The scent of life

I’ve moved to an older part of town where the buildings and homes are mostly brick, have names, and the socioeconomics of our parents (or our own collection of choices and privileges) might determine the block on which we live. My street is lined with signs that say Science is Real and Black Lives Matter. Pride flags hang from porches and windows. The two convenience stores on the corner that my daughter and I like to visit, are owned and operated by People of Color from two different countries. There are those who live out loud on the street and those who were taught to “be respectable.” And the beat goes on.

When I moved into my new old place, I found two sweet flowers locked in time in the freezer. A few people have informed me that I have two cigarette butts in my bathroom window. Aren’t you going to take those out? No, I’m not. Not the reaction you might suppose from one who practices CAM (Complementary Alternative Medicine). Health is important to me. I keep my home clean, despite my two cats. The health of our breathing is important to me. Scent experience is important to me. The reality of life outside my own experience is also important to me.

An herbalist friend of mine asked her social media following how they might feel if their CAM practitioner showed up to their appointment a little sweaty after a brisk walk, or something of the like. The responses surprised me. An overwhelming majority of those who responded equated a little sweat with body odor and therefore unprofessionalism. I thought of Indigenous healers and what their bedside manner might look and smell like. Of the women and men who share the wisdom of their practices with dirt under their nails from having worked a day in their gardens or fields. Of the healers in developing countries (and our own!) who have no choice but to sweat because they have no air conditioning.

My dad and maternal grandma smoked. I grew up in a small, rural town where many people smoked, often without regard to the lungs of their children. I smoked as a teen (it was the 90s). A ritual for the anxious and bummed. Today, the smell of cigarette smoke irritates my nose and lungs. I physically can’t tolerate it. Nevertheless, when I see cigarette butts or people smoking outside their place of work on a break, or smoke escaping through a crack in a car window, I wonder about that person’s life. I wonder what led them to take up the habit. I wonder if they’ll develop lung cancer, like my dad, and I want to encourage them to stop. I wonder what challenges they’ve faced. I wonder what common ground we share.

I don’t remove those cigarette butts from my window sill because they remind me of where I came from, from choices I made, and the choices from which we feel we can’t escape due to lack, addiction, or fear. They remind me of the toxicity of socioeconomic prejudices. They remind me that life can be hard and people are trying. They remind me that Holistic care is for those who smoke in their bathroom windows as well as for those who were raised to “be respectable.”

Holistic care is not a privilege. It is not a curated, sterile experience but an act of compassion and love toward ourselves and others that may get messy, if we’re doing the work. It begins when we love ourselves and others, in all the beautiful and raw ways we show up. It begins with our rituals and those we are brave enough to share them with.

In Fragrant: The Secret Life of Scent, artisanal perfumier, Mandy Aftel, writes, “As any aromaphile knows, there is no beauty without ugliness. …Pure gorgeousness would be bland and insipid without the foil of its counterpart; “the foul and the fragrant” are flip sides of a single experience… .”

If one comes to my little flat for aromatherapy or Reiki, they might smell a bit of my neighbor’s smoke coming through my open window. It’s a part of my world, too, now. We might hear a loud conversation living itself out on the street. My neighbor’s cats the floor above might be chasing each other, as they do, as mine do, too. Congratulations. We are alive. Isn’t it wonderful? What a beautiful mess. It will be OK.

2 comments

  1. Thanks for sharing what’s real and not simply “respectable “.
    This is the first of your writings that I have come upon. I will be going through the archives and now feel blessed.

    Like

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