Walking and talking of heavy things, the churning, sputtering things that muck up a mind, I drop them like stones from my hands, leaving them discarded. This is the one place I can toss out all the yuck without poisoning another soul, this winding road beneath trees that endlessly pour forth praise. The wind carries the voice of those trees into all the world, as their leaves slowly meander down to the sunlit street.
A friend once asked what grace smells like to me, and right now, it’s a rich scent–velvet-petaled, fruity, drifting from somewhere I can’t quite discover, lightly skimming my cheeks and settling on my shoulders. Here I am spouting out my shadows, and this one smell changes everything. If new wine really dripped from the mountains and flowed from all the hills (Amos 9:13), I imagine the whole earth would smell like this. I lift my nose, skimming the trees, the lawns, for the source of beauty emitting the fragrance, persistently pointing myself toward various delicate blossoms to no avail. I can’t find it. The landscape changes, but the perfume wanders down every street with me, flowing, one moment nearer, the next only a memory. It’s…exquisite. And it makes me drop every dark stone from my hands, right there in the street. For a length and another and another, I am captivated, absorbing only abundance—the specks of light glittering in the road, the chatter of the trees, the warmth of that wind.
Another stretch, and I begin to theorize, disecting the notes, that I inhale not one scent but the harmony of many. Is that pine? The needles crunch under my feet in shaded places. Roses? Delicate, elegant stems climb the fence just there. And then there’s…honeysuckle, maybe? I see the knotted vines, but can’t make out any of the tiny, trumpeted, buttery blossoms. I used to pluck them as a child and carefully tug them open in the warmth of summer, looking for the sticky nectar. But it’s past time for those, isn’t it? And then, here and there, the heady second bloom of gardenias, smooth like silk, bruised a little at the tips. I am a sojourner, searching for the source of Life, and I can’t help but wonder if, with all our different shades of Love, we could truly perfume the world (2 Corinthians 2:14) and make her drop her angry fists.
And then. I’m upon the rotting thing before I have time to avert my eyes, a bloody, headless carcass bloated and wearing a full coat of flies. It smells of death, an odor so ugly I can’t even breathe. Is it a fawn, head-crushed by a car? I hardly know and cannot look, cannot even be beside it. I give it a wide berth, picking up my pace, stunned at the horror that can overtake a life, running a hand across my nose, my hair. Are those flies on my head? It feels as though they’ve followed me down the sidewalk. Uhhh. The memory arises in my throat, a mock-gag that would certainly have been real had I remained there looking.
I turn the corner, disgusted. The breeze roughly scatters leaves into the street, and with it comes that perfume, the complex, full musk of what? I still-don’t-know exactly. But so it is with the wind, blending a thousand kinds of beautiful into one full chorus. It occurs to me that the sweetness travels, not the stench. The only time I smell that, street after street, is in the moments when I’m walking right beside it. Could this be why God patiently reminds me not to walk that way (Psalm 1), why He cautions me about what I think upon (Philippians 4:8), why He so often warns me to keep up with the Spirit (Galatians 5:16)? It’s amazing how the one smell carries me on away away and the other travels with me and makes me want to linger. Those instincts have been written right into tissue and bone, and yet sometimes I can be heart-sick and putrid myself for ignoring them.
As a child, I loved one of my mother’s friends best for the smell of her perfume and the way it lingered on my clothes after she hugged me, the way her sweetness remained in a room just faintly after she walked away. I think of her now, walking the streets with that fragrance wrapped around me, how I used to twirl until my skirt fluttered, thinking, Oh, please let ‘adult me’ smell like that. And now, walking toward home, I know I get to choose: death or life, condemnation or Love. I can choose where I dwell and how I smell, and I can be used to spread everywhere an aroma that changes everything.