I love the smell of gasoline, and I am somehow fond of fresh cigarette smoke. I’ve always felt like I shouldn’t like those, like they are guilty pleasures. But I think both of those scents remind me of different grandparents for different reasons, and that makes me neither guilty nor sorry. It makes me want to fill my car with fuel, breathe it in, and revisit my Grandpa’s garage and workshop in my mind.
Scent is a powerful thing.
I spent the best summers of my life on staff at a camp. Horseback riding, night hikes, archery, swimming, creek walks, speed boats, and midnight shenanigans. Those summers made a significant piece of the person I am.
Let’s talk for a minute about the lake and the boats and the rainbow-swirling waters of the diesel docks. That’s the dock where all the boats parked to be refueled, and the water reeked of gas fumes. The water literally swirled with the blue and purple hues of oil.
Naturally, this was the target spot for horseplay among lifeguards and boat drivers. It was both the highest compliment and the worst fate to be pushed, shoved, dropped, or carried into the diesel docks. I suppose there was probably a flirty component to it, but honestly, a girl’s hair would smell like gasoline for weeks to come. Perhaps for the whole summer.
No shampoo is more powerful than gasoline. And you just can’t wash your hair enough to get that scent to go away.
I didn’t even know I had that memory tucked away, but it came back to me this week. I love the magic of memories, how they show up complete and whole.
It all came rushing back to me when I revisited this story:
Six days before the Passover celebration began, Jesus arrived in Bethany, the home of Lazarus—the man he had raised from the dead. 2 A dinner was prepared in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, and Lazarus was among those who ate with him. 3 Then Mary took a twelve-ounce jar of expensive perfume made from essence of nard, and she anointed Jesus’ feet with it, wiping his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance. John 12: 1-3
So much came to life for the first time, as I read about Jesus’ return to the home of his friends — Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. They were so dear to him.
Per usual, Martha served. Ever the busy hostess, probably an Enneagram 1, Martha always saw what needed to be done and got busy at it.
Mary poured out her perfume on Jesus’ feet, wiping his feet with her hair. Here’s what got me: it says the strong fragrance filled the house – so imagine how it must have stayed in her hair.
I remembered the girls at camp, obsessively washing their hair to get rid of the scent.
I imagine how long Mary’s hair carried that fragrance, especially in a culture whose hygiene was so different from today.
Shampoo? A no go.
Daily washing? Unlikely.
That scent must have lingered for a long time.
In the next verses, Judas – the disciple ever worried about the bottom line – gets all negative and critical about her gift, considering how that money could have gone to so many other good things. But Jesus shuts down the naysayers by telling them she had done this in preparation for his burial, which is an odd thing for him to say since nobody knew then that he would be buried by the end of the week.
Fast forward six days, when he was gone. In the Great Plot Twist, Jesus was killed, buried, gone.
Here’s what I know: when somebody is gone so fast, your mind plays tricks.
Did that really happen?
Was he ever even here at all?
I mean, other people remember him, so I know I didn’t imagine it.
But how did everything slip away so quickly?
And yet, that scent still lingered in Mary’s hair.
Six days later, weeks later, maybe even months.
It was a reminder that it had happened. A reminder that he had been there.
A reminder that he had said she had done the right thing.
A reminder to worship.
Scent is the most powerful memory trigger. Every time Mary turned her head, she got a whiff of her own hair. And it all came rushing back.
He was here. It happened. I remember.
How kind is our Creator to give us the gift of scent, the gift of remembering.
This week, consider choosing a new scent to help you remember that Easter isn’t about bunnies and baskets. Carry the scent with you, maybe even in your hair. Let it be a reminder.
He was here. It happened.