I’m currently attending the Conference on Medicine and Religion at Ohio State University in Columbus. This piece was written during a session entitled, “Attending to Suffering and Acknowledging the Limitations of Medicine through Lament,” presented by Drs. Alex Lion, Ben Snyder, and Mona Raed, Rabbi Bruce Pfeffer, and Chaplain Anastasia Holman, all of Indiana University School of Medicine and Indiana University Health System, Sunday, March 12, 2023.
Scent is transient.
We read a lament from our Muslim cousins where their Prophet, by his example, gave those who followd him permission to grieve, to cry, to express sorrow (Hadith on Grief: Death of the Prophet’s son, Ibrahim).
He came and kissed his departed son, and inhaled his scent.
And we thought of the scents we remembered
Through the neglected sense.
And the scent of an adolescent.
Which we avoid now, but someday will wonder where it went.
Is my tradition scent-based, someone asked?
Well, yes, it is.
The scent of the besamim which divide Shabbat from the week, which restores my weak soul for one more week.
The scent of the long-destroyed Temple, the incense.
The four species, their smell and taste, both, either, or neither.
The scent of a room filled with hundreds of sets of those four, floating above the colors, yellow, green, and straw, the sounds of rustling leaves, the feeling of bumping into others, children tugging on your sleeve, holding the nubby etrog in your hand.
The meals and their aromas blanketing my neighborhood, where everything makes sense
And what do you do, my sacred profession? You wipe all of that away with a single prevailing scent, of chlorine and lemons suppressing the smell of human effluent.
Linking antisepsis with the places we dement, our descent, if you will into a place where nothing will awaken memory – nothing, except a scent, from the most primordial sense. The one wired direct to the center of the brain. Direct to the soul.
The re-ah that goes straight to the ru-ah.
The neshimah that restores the neshamah.