Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Spring Smells & Memory

I slipped my toes out of my shoes at the end of the day today and stepped onto fresh spring grass. Tussocks of green in a Midwestern spring, letting the skin on the bottom of my feet meet the skin of the earth. It’s only April, the dirt and grass are still cool to the initial touch. But soon, the combination of sun and standing patiently results in a warming of the earth and my feet.

Spring is rich in sensory experiences, a veritable feast. It was the sense of smell that has particularly pulled at my mind since Palm Sunday. Sitting next to me, a young palm frond waver listened to a sermon while gently waving the leaf in his hands. It wasn’t a distraction, it was a richness of a fresh scent of green making its way to me. Some time has passed since, spring has progressed, and now stepping outside and into the grass reminds of that same smell. 

Weather permitting, I have been trying to walk to work. Those scents have been with me on my walks. I have been breathing in the greening of spring in the tulip tree blossoms, the so subtle scent of the forsythia, and tiny early spring flowers that smell like the blue, white, purple and pink of their blooms. We know from science and from our own experiences that smell is a powerful part of memory making. And that smell, the palm frond, the green smell, it made me wonder – what smell triggered a memory for someone after the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. 

Was it the smell of palm fronds under feet and hoof? Was it the smell of dust rising and mingling with the sharpness of sweat as the clothes were placed on the road? Was it the barn smell of a donkey, the sharp odor of manure with the sweet smell of barns? Was it the smell of the multitude moving together, crying out “Hosanna?” 

I imagine the gentle smell of the palm and how someone else may have smelled and remembered all of those events that happened years ago. Remembered the entry, the triumph, the hope of political change and resolution against a world power. Did the green smell tinge with the bitter, as the memories turned from smells of celebration and welcome turn to smells of blood, fearful tears and warmed armor on a legionnaire? Or did the smell remain fresh and sweet, like the resin smell of the anointing spices that was not needed, not used on someone dead?

Jesus - not dead – not the smell of death. The smell of life, the smell of green and growth. I wonder if they thought of it every spring.