As I walked along the sea in Reykjavik, Iceland on this perfect afternoon, taking shots of the rocks various people had stacked on the shore and enjoying a cigar, an older lady stopped her bike behind me and started talking to me in what I assume was Icelandic.
“I’m sorry, I don’t understand,” I said to her.
“Oh, you speak English,” she said.
“Do I look Icelandic?” I asked. “I blend?”
“Yes you do,” she replied, then continued, motioning to my cigar, “you don’t see this much anymore, the cigars. The smell is so special to me, that I had to stop.”
She continued: “my father smoked them, and whenever I smell one I go back to that time. So happy.”
She leaned forward to smell and I moved it closer to her, careful not to singe anything.
She inhaled deeply through her nostrils, eyes closed.
“This takes me back to Christmas morning. My father would be sitting in his chair smoking a cigar. Such happy memories.”
I reached into my pocket and pulled out another.
“I have one for you, if you wish,” I offered. “We can go sit, have a drink, and enjoy cigars.”
I expected an immediate “no, thank you, I must go.” But she paused. She thought about it. I moved my cigar closer and she inhaled again.
Alas, she got back on her bike and rode off along the coast.
How often does a smell, a song, a taste, a sound, or any other sensual thing take us back to a happy memory and literally change the way we feel?
How often does money, successful stocks, a bonus, or a raise give us the same feeling?
I was raised to believe we have five senses. I’ve read articles where scientists now think we have between 14 and 20. Either way, a full bank account isn’t one of them.
In the early 90s, when I bought my first CD, I swore off vinyl for good. I never had a nice turntable, so my records always sounded scratchy and poppy and these new CDs sounded so perfect. “I’ll NEVER play vinyl again,” I said...often.
But a few years ago, my kids bought me a turntable and a couple of albums for Christmas. They also gave me a brown grocery bag full of some old albums from Jeff’s uncle’s attic.
I was polite. I didn’t mention my disdain for vinyl. I set up the turntable in the perfect place in my house.
Then something magical happened, I flashed back to my childhood. For Christmas I would oftentimes get a Beatles album. Being wrapped, I never knew WHAT the album was going to be, just that it WAS an album, the size and shape it it kind of giving away the contents.
For me, there’s something special I’m getting an album as a gift, wrapped up. I love music, so there’s a happy mix of the known and the unknown. “I know this is an album, but I don’t know WHICH album.”
I remember getting Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band one year. I was blown away by the opening notes of Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds as I read along with the liner notes. Then She’s Leaving Home and A Day in the Life. Seriously? I still shake my head.
And there I was this Christmas morning, as an adult, feeling things I hadn’t felt in 35 years.
I opened the first album, and it was Amy Winehouse. I pulled the plastic off and carefully pulled the black disk out of the cardboard and placed it on the Crosley turntable.
I turned it on.
I carefully lifted the needle, moved it in, and slowly lowered it on.
There are no words to completely describe the feelings that came over me. Not from the music...but from the hissing and popping I hadn’t heard in years, sounds that were such a big part of my youth.
Maybe that’s what the lady felt today as she smelled my cigar.
Maybe you feel it when... well, I would be curious to know.
So maybe the phrase “stop and smell the roses” is adaptable to whatever takes you back and makes you feel alive, but I’ll bet it’s all sensory.
My challenge to myself on my journey has been to EXPERIENCE the moment I’m in.
I invite you to join me...I have plenty of cigars for us.