By Stephanie Saline
I’m known for a lot of things. Smelling good isn’t one of them. But today, I walked into my favorite café and a well-dressed stranger — a woman, it bears saying — told me as I walked past, “You smell good.”
It’s a small place. So upon hearing it, three other women sitting at separate tables took a deep inhale.
I sat down at a table, and the woman at the table next to me said, “It’s an odd thing, for a stranger to say you smell good. But you really do. As you sat down, you wafted.”
I almost kissed her.
I love it when people use a precise word without pretension.
It sends a zip of joy up my spine.
Not gonna demure here: I’ve been working on my wafting. On both the physical and metaphorical fronts.
I like the idea that a human being moves through the world in an aromatic stew of her own making.
A friend of mine recently quoted author and Holocaust survivor Viktor E. Frankl, who said, “The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.”
It’s something I’ve heard before, but you know how you hear something at the right time, and something clicks? I had one of those.
I’m in a stretch of life where I get to experience a homecoming. It’s a story that’s been in the works for several years now; it begins with my exodus from a place where I felt hopelessly out of place (South Florida, I will not miss you when you slip back into the sea) and stops in the city of my birth and a string of rental homes across the Rust Belt.
And as delicious as it is to be in this chapter of nesting, rooting, decorating, and making a home, I’ve lived long enough to know that this, too, shall pass.
But in a surprising twist, seeing the impermanence has redoubled the ferocity of my joy and appreciation for what is.
This always makes me feel a bit like that scene from Thorton Wilder’s play Our Town, where a recently-dead Emily goes back to her family’s kitchen and watches her people interact in the most banal and quotidian of ways.
As I recall, she says something like, “I’m here, mama. Can you see me?” They don’t.
I notice that my joy is interwoven with an awareness of its impermanence, its fragility. I ask myself: do I dare? Do I dare feel my gladness in the face of it all?
And then I think of the Jack Gilbert poem that writer Elizabeth Gilbert (no relation) liked so much, she tattooed part of it on her arm:
We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world.
This is what I’m wafting.
A teacher and advertising writer based in Buffalo, New York, Stella Orange spent a decade having adventures across Japan, the Pacific Northwest, and Montana, and another decade building a popular writing business. She is the creator of Writing Your Way Home, a workshop where people write their stories. Find out more about her work at www.stellaorange.com.