David Laue of Chicago writes,
Sight. Hearing. Taste. Touch. And Smell. Which of the five senses is the best?
Inspired by his introduction to the story of Hellen Keller, my little brother David decided he would try to be blind for a while. When it was time to go to bed, he went in the bathroom and remembered that the toothpaste was in the medicine cabinet above the sink. So with his eyes shut, he figured he could reach the toothpaste by stepping up on the toilet seat cover except the toilet cover was up and he placed his foot into the toilet water. As that moment he valued sight above all else.
The ability to see may be our most essential survival tool. In the olden days, sight helped us avoid hungry predators or St. Louis Cardinal fans on a Wrigleyville bender.
You might argue that a sense of touch steers us away from a burning ember or the point of an animal’s tooth, but by the time a tiger is munching on our head, we would be thinking, I sure wish I saw him coming.
If you were my accountant poring over my restaurant receipts, you would swear that I regard taste as the best sense. The sway that pizza has over my behavioral impulses is so powerful that it is hard to imagine a greater value being assigned to any other sense.
But all of these senses have double edges. When we open up to the world, it all comes to visit. Your sense of sight catalogs all of those sunsets and paintings and puppy videos, but 10 seconds of, say, Lin Brehmer dancing in the air studio and you start wishing there were a potion that could rinse your eyes of all memory.
Your sense of hearing can draw you to a chorus of earth-bound angels.
But that same sense leaves you vulnerable to the chants of hell.
Do remember the movie Michael, where the archangel is identified by his smell?
“It’s cookies, he smells like cookies, and the smell gets stronger when he’s in heat.”
The most subtle awareness may be our favorite because it is the sense of smell that arrests our memories when we least expect it.
Before I can even see the ocean, I will roll down my window and inhale
Can you slip your fingers into a baseball glove without bringing it to your face so its leathery musk starts to replay those hours spent in a park with a ball and a bat and a clutch of your best friends?
Pass a freshly mowed field and we are suddenly on our grandfather’s farm with a cloud of gnats in our face.
The damp earthy aroma after a rainfall will seat us in an aluminum rowboat with our dad as we cast jitterbugs towards the lily-pads hoping a large mouth bass hits the lure like a locomotive.
Our sense of smell may pale in comparison to a grizzly bear on the hunt, but give us a hint of a common smell and we are bloodhounds for the years gone by.
Onions in olive oil and your mom is still alive. An apron around her waist and she’s saying “Don’t be late for dinner, we’re having spaghetti.”
And when you meet the one you love and all your senses are engaged, it isn’t sight or sound or taste or even touch that finishes the embrace. It’s a smell. You breathe it. And then you hold it in. That’s the best.