Thursday, March 31, 2022

The Memory in Smell

It was cloudy. The calendar said we were supposed to be in the season of spring, but the weather still required heavy jackets. I was running up and down a hill by the "ravine" in the back of where I lived. I was seven and at the bottom of this ravine was a neighbors firepit. The smoke was drifting up the hill and the distinct smell of brush being burned was so distinct that is froze that moment in time as I wore my blue coat that was way too big for me, but my mom insisted. As I ran with boundless energy I looked towards the treehouse where my friend was and smiled... then I blinked, and it was 2022.

Yesterday I smelled that same smell. There are different types of brush that one can burn but what I was smelling was the same and it made sense as I was just two miles from where I grew up. It was uncanny. I've read articles like this one that describe the link between memories and smell and all throughout my life I can say that only music is more directed tied to memories than smell. 

As I watched the smoke, and some ash from the brush came down, I was moved thinking who I was way back when. My memory, I've learned, is most certainly better than average, but when I have an aroma that triggers the memory it's simply immersive in just how present the past is.

When I present to teachers and law enforcement the topic of smell comes up occasionally. One of the main concepts I teach is the system of, "whatever happens first always has to happen" and aromas can play into this. If, for example, I would've had a bad day when I smelled the type of brush being burned I may have gone back to that time and instead of smiling, I may have had a reaction and have been scared or worried that situation may have occurred again. It's this that I talk to teachers and law enforcement that, and this can be extremely difficult to ascertain if this is what is occurring, but if a teacher or a law enforcement officer is wearing a cologne or a perfume that was worn when something bad occurred, well, the memory of the past may create fear in the present.

I've toured the country several times and certain offices or schools may have similar smells and it's unique to walk into a room and be flooded with ten different memories of ten different places due to one smell. It can be a bit confusing trying to piece when one smell has sprung so many memories as I will try to pin down exactly when and where something occurred.

I'm sure I'm not alone this at all. Maybe this why there's such a whole industry, or multiple industries in the world of smell. Candles named "Grandma' Kitchen" within itself show that, autism spectrum or not, the shared experiences we have with memories and scent are strong. Next time you have a moment that a smell brings you back, though, try to imagine if all that you do has that same reaction and a single memory triggers a spider web cascading effect that then you relive a year in a flash. That, in a way, is a way I can attempt to describe what the power of scent has.

No comments:

Post a Comment