What does your life smell like?

Last night I found myself talking with a friend who had worked and lived in Harlem in the early 1980’s. I had visited Harlem in the mid 80’s and we talked a little about what we had each experienced during that time. The conversation then led to more recent experiences in NYC and we talked about 9/11, all occurring with little comprehension on my part that it was the eve of the anniversary of the tragic event.

This is interesting not just because I was caught off guard and I wanted to mark the day with reverence and honor lives lost but also because that date had personal significance. I wasn’t in my apartment on that day but if I had been I would have been able to watch the towers fall. Instead I returned to the City 3 days later unable to get to my apartment as our building and street were being used for Ground Zero Operations. It look another few days before being allowed back into my apartment under military guard and given 15 minutes to grab the few belongings that were required during the unknown length of our displacement.

We were actually allowed to return after a few more days even though all Battery Park dwellers had to cross two military police check points to get home, having our bags searched each time. In the great scheme of things I know that this was just a minor inconvenience as were the helicopters that came and went 24/7, using the small patch of grass in front of our building to land.

The turning point was my decision to leave NYC. On the morning of 9/11, prior to the event I was offered a job which entailed moving to the West Coast. I had every intention of turning it down but after a few weeks of being back in downtown Manhattan it was apparent that it was going to take a very long time for things to begin to return to anything that resembled normal and then there was the smell.

Having had that experience I now imagine the smells of tragedy all over the world. If I read about war, or watch explosions on TV, I imagine the smell. It is a very visceral access point for me to connect with other people’s worlds. I think the only reason we don’t have smelly-vision in our homes is the fact that we could not bare it. I think that if the sharp odor of the world’s tragedies were pervasive in our living rooms where we were forced to live in the stench of it, we may all be quicker to act and do something about the suffering.

So today I did pause. I did remember. I did respect and honor and was able to do that while noticing the smells of a ‘normal’ life; the restaurants, the people, the trees, the car fumes and the familiar saltiness of the Pacific Ocean and I implored the universe to cease the smell of tragedy in my lifetime.


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1 Response to “What does your life smell like?”

  1. 1 Bridget September 12, 2008 at 6:19 am

    The ladies of The View were sharing their “where were you when it happened” moments yesterday. I was instantly reminded of where I was, and how I thought at first it was all just a terrible mistake. I remember the panic at the grade school I was volunteering at, and parents rushing to the school to scoop up their children. The halls of the school were silent and empty by noon with only a handful of students left. The smell that takes me back to that day is that of a grade school. Pencils, paper, crayons, and floor cleanser.
    It’s amazing to me how smells can hold so much power, and a direct line to memories. I have a friend that says the smell of fall reminds him of me, which I find terribly flattering. I had never associated a smell with someone I cared about before….but I do now.

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