Monday, August 06, 2007

All Because I Smelled Something

(Is that one of the best blog titles I've ever had or what!?)

I went to the local hospital chapel the other day for daily mass because:

#1. It's like 5 minutes away.
#2. It's a noon mass which means I can relax a wee bit more in the morning
#3. There's confession available just before the bells toll and I hadn't been in like 5 months.

So the chapel is on the 5th floor in the hospital; a beautiful little structure, Russian icon over the altar, and the stained glass is gorgeous. But it was about 103 degrees in there. No AC. Just big fans made of steel, back when fans were fans, if you know what I mean. The exhaust from a bunch of other fans and vents on the adjacent rooves (?) of other buildings outside the chapel added to the heat and the noise, seeping into our sanctuary through the open panels at the bottom of each stained glass window.

After Communion I smelled something like a rich tire rubber smell, not like a new floaty raft for the backyard pool smell, more like a new bicycle tire smell (stay with me, this IS going somewhere). "Smell" is one of the more intriguing and yet under appreciated of the five senses God has endowed us with. It's usually the one we sort of... well... turn up our noses to (oh that was good, right?). The eyes and the ears are just so cool! And taste, I mean, well, stuff tastes good. But smell. You never meet a person and say, "Hey, nice to smell you!" or "Man, today smells GREAT!"

But I like my sense of smell. Heck, I just like the word smell. The real kicker about smell that mystifies me is its power to kindle memories and transport us back to those memories. Sometimes I smell astroturf, and boom! I'm 9 years old and sitting at that red picnic table at Nana and PopPop's in Edison, NJ, drinking her famous Iced Tea and ready to jump in the pool again and make a whirlpool by racing around the edges of this circular womb of water. Other times, I step into a house and think, this smells just like the Fifield's back in Country Lakes, and my mind gets to wondering how Brian, Jeff, and Scottie are doing. I haven't seen them in who knows how long.

So the other day, after Communion, as I was rapt in the sweet fire of the Divine Embrace, I was brought back to my youth by this smell.

As stated earlier in this most pungent of posts, the smell was like a new bike tire smell. In my mind I was suddenly 10 again. And there before me was my Huffy Pro Thunder BMX bike, with the star rims, in blazing yellow and black, humming like a hornet, with the cool pads on the cross bar and the neck of the handle bars. I remember that Christmas of '79, when my eyes first fell on that nefarious machine, that wild stallion that would take me to far and distant lands on so many wild adventures! Look at this picture! My eyes were riveted! I was already on the open road, spitting gravel from my tires like a Monster Truck.

That one smell sent me back. I was pulling wheelies again and exploring our neighborhood. It was the Three Amigos: Sam Kennedy (who suddenly at 13 wanted us to call him Dwayne, which we thought was kinda weird), Artie Perry (whose full name was Arthur Perry the Third, which I always thought was royal and somewhat heraldic), and me, little Billy.... nerd boy, wheelie champion of Jefferson Street and BEYOND! (ask my brother, it's true. I once rode a wheelie almost the entire length of Railroad Avenue:

kid measurement = like 2 miles
actual measurement = about a quarter mile (still impressive, right?)

Our youth was free. We were so free! Our moms and dads trusted us in this age of innocence, just two years before the debut of MTV. We would tear through the "Trails" like the kids in "E.T. the Extra Terrestrial." We would tap into the uncharted regions of our town, and name and claim places for our own, like little Columbuses and Marco Polos. Down through the brambles and the vines that edged the parking lot of the infamous "Lakeview Inn" (since closed), we would plummet, discovering little streams and pools, and the dark swirls of the cedar water creek that poured out of Mirror Lake. My cousin got a fallen tree bridge named after him (Antonio Bridge), I got an entire island (Willy Land) and then there was Snake Valley, a sunken mire with upturned tree roots and mud where, yup you guessed it, there were lots of snakes.

I had a golden childhood; my brother and I both know it, and we speak of it from time to time. Summer days we'd be gone, outside, all over town, in the woods and fields, playing and laughing and then coming home again when the crickets started to sing. Today, we wonder how free we can let kids be... to taste and see (and smell) the world around them, to journey, to explore. It's a different world. I know it can be a dangerous place, but when I stop and dream of the little ones we hope to have and hold someday soon, (please God!) I imagine when we'll let them go; into the wild of their imaginations, lost in wonder and in discovery. Should we always be right there, overshadowing them? Or can we sometimes let them wander, and wonder, and explore the way we did as kids? It was danger that sharpened our senses, and gave us the tools to discern right from wrong, wisdom from folly, goodness from the shadowy cloak of badness.

I thank God and my parents for the freedom of my youth. I wonder if the risk of giving kids the same freedom today outweighs the assurance that an overprotective bubble will give us, knowing exactly where they are all the time. Will that sheltering shadow leave them poorer in the end? Less equipped for the "real world" when they get there?

Hmm..... I just wanted to put it out there; thoughts and comments as always are welcome... and by the way, don't forget to stop and SMELL the roses today, and see what thoughts they'll kindle for you!
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