Sunday, May 15, 2011
Stopping to smell the flowers
Ever since, I have stopped to smell the flowers, wondering how much of my sense of smell is gone. I know I can still smell certain things very strongly, but I began to wonder how much of my sense is really that I just know what something smells like in memory, and how much am I truly smelling. So of course I went to the magic box (my computer and Google) and checked it out. It turns out that all of our senses fade with age. This page on Aging Changes in the Senses was particularly interesting. It is a natural process that causes all of our senses to change, and not for the better. I already knew this about vision and hearing, but not about smelling. Another interesting page is from the Social Issues Research Centre called The Smell Report.
Hanging out with older people, as I do on my hikes with the Seniors, makes me aware that not all of us change and age in the same ways. But the older we get, the more our bodies begin to wear out. Not just our senses, but our knees and feet, our joints, the spring in our step. It's a natural process. I remember once on a hike when I was showing my friends a new app I had purchased for my iPod, with bird song to help identify the birds I have been hearing. Mike could not hear it at all, which amazed me, until I remembered that for some people, losing the higher registers of sound are the first to go. It made me grateful that I have not yet lost the ability to hear birds, since their songs give me great pleasure.
I found that I have indeed lost the ability to smell certain flowers that were once such strong fragrances to me. It turns out that allergies (which I have developed here in the Pacific Northwest) can be partly to blame, but after the age of sixty, our ability to smell begins to fade. It's part of life, so I am trying to come to terms with it. Since the lilacs have just come out in the past week, I've been going from bush to bush to see if I can get even a little of their smell. I found that when the sun comes out and warms the air, I can still smell them, but nothing like I remember from years past. I can still smell roses, but many hothouse flowers are deficient in smells anyway. Some odors are still very strong, and I have noticed that artificial smells like hair spray and powders seem stronger than ever. It's an unpleasant suffocating smell.
All of this introspection has caused me to think about what the future holds. Since it has been a gradual process, there is no demarcation line between being young and vibrant and old and worn out. In some cultures, age is revered. Not mine, though. When I see an advertisement on TV for a product, almost without fail the person in the ad is younger than me. The Febreze ad just came to mind, which tries to get me to purchase an artificial odor eliminator and replace any bad smells with their chemicals. In one ad, a man has just come home from work to a home to see Febreze on the table, apparently wafting a delightful odor into the air. It makes me wonder if the onslaught of all the chemicals we add into our environment is partly responsible for our sniffers wearing out prematurely.
Okay, I guess I can't actually consider that my faculties are wearing out prematurely. They are right on track, and when I look around at many people much younger than me, I can see they are not make the right decisions to be in good shape when they reach my advanced age. Seventy is just around the corner and I am making peace with it. But oh, how I remember loving to put my nose into a bouquet of flowers and be transported to heaven!