I’m sitting in my closed office as the room fills with the scent of store-brand Bengay. The aroma is a cross between Pepto-Bismol and the big thick, pink Canadian mints that my father would buy when I was a boy.
The smell is neither unfamiliar nor entirely unpleasant. I remember watching television as a kid and popping the mints in to my mouth until my stomach churned and every burp was wrapped in a fresh wintergreen bubble. Each release of gas would relieve the pressure just enough to permit another mint in to fill the space until all that was left was crumbs. Even those, though, weren’t safe from a wet finger tracing the bottom of the bag until every piece of bright, pink dust was collected and consumed.
My sense of smell has always been able to transport me through time without warning. One waft of apple blossoms and I’m climbing the trees in my grandparent’s back yard; the smell of lilacs has me standing on their front porch. The salty smell of the ocean takes me to every summer spent at the beach, crabbing and fishing. Even the pungent, lingering stink of the Drakkar Noir that I bathed in in high school places me firmly in my seat in 12th grade English class as I stared affectionately at my teacher as she explained Shakespeare in a way that could only be symbolic of our love that only existed in my dreams.
There is no controlling where the journey takes me. There is no way to turn off the destinations that lead to pain or sadness. The smell of a hospital brings me back to the last few times that I saw my sister. The smell of vodka has me sitting on my kitchen floor during darker days.
But even those places, as unforgiving or desperate as they might seem, eventually send me back to the present. The good memories and the bad both remind me to be grateful, and humble, and to appreciate where I am, what I have, and who is around me. Because eventually, these things, too, will be memories that I will want to someday revisit the same way, with familiar scents taking me back to my past.
So, I take my time, and I smell the roses.