Coming to my Senses

Not the senses I have but what I do with them is my kingdom. ~ Helen Keller

How often have you appreciated your sense of smell recently? I mean really delighted in its power to evoke pleasure and memories? Have you ever thought about how often it alerts you to danger and keeps you safe?

This afternoon, for two glorious minutes, I was able to smell the rose scented candle beside my bed and I wept with joy. That one, simple fragrance meant that my sense of smell – absent for weeks because of a vicious virus travelling around my Eustachian tubes, bronchial passages and lungs – hadn’t disappeared forever.

In the first weeks after the virus struck, I lost coaching clients when I lost my hearing and my voice. Email coaching wasn’t an option either, due to dizziness and headaches. A few weeks ago, just as I was finally taking in what the universe was painting in a huge sign above my head – HAVE A BREAK! STAY IN BED!! GET WELL!!! – my daughter came home from school sobbing, announcing the end of her first, tender, special friendship with a lovely lad she’d liked for three years. For ten months, they’d been going to the cinema, going to cafés with friends and sharing family times, in our home and his. On the same day he ended their relationship, he ‘asked out’ a girl my daughter has always been convinced is prettier and more popular than she is.

As she sat racked with sobs at our kitchen table, all of our recent hormone-fuelled spats were swept aside, forgotten. I listened, hugged and coached. I produced drinks, tissues and an appropriate ‘triumph over adversity’ DVD. I secretly phoned and asked my husband to buy a tub of ice cream and some chocolate on his way home from work. I could already see her revisiting the past and letting anger and bitterness deliberately erase parts of what she’d previously called the happiest months of her life. The next few days were awful as waves of new pain washed over her and my virus got worse. All that kept me going was the thought we’d be on mid-term holiday in Spain soon, looking for ways to heal.

Lying on a lounger on the beach, the waves lapping a few feet away, I longed to smell the salty sea air. I could barely hear the keening cry of a lone seagull wheeling against the blue sky. The breeze flicked a strand of hair across my face but not even the healing warmth of the sun could breach the distance I was starting to feel between my heart and the world around me, a world whose scents, sounds and details I would usually devour and relish. Even Pollyanna had packed up and gone home.

I watched my daughter listlessly playing with some shells on the beach, all of her brother’s attempts to engage her rejected. I let her sit with the pain, watched her explore a range of new sensations on her journey towards adulthood, knowing that as a talented young writer, she would be able to edit and recreate this part of her life some day.

Reaching into my beach bag for the digital camera I’d been given for my birthday but hadn’t mastered yet, I decided to practise and play around with it. I’d had to pay for every photo taken with my old SLR camera, so it took me a while to get used to the idea that I could take, view and delete as many frames as I liked. I snapped away.

I got excited. I got better at it. Without the distraction of sounds or smells, the writer’s eternal need to take it all in, I started capturing my daughter from every angle, rediscovering the joy I used to get from painting and photography. When I convinced her that I was deleting as many shots as I was taking, she forgot about me and went back to her own thoughts. I focused on what I could see – nothing else – and rediscovered the joy of framing. I learned how to work the zoom. Blue sky and palm trees, gone. The froth of lacy white waves on the beach, gone. I learned how to trim and clip, getting rid of everything that wasn’t important. I wanted to help her see how beautiful she was. Nothing else mattered. I captured the breeze in a strand of wild, golden hair, the sea in her aquamarine eyes. I didn’t need to see her smile to capture her beauty. All the beauty I needed was right there, the depth of her soul, her strength and her ability to feel, to hold that awareness in her heart and to explore it – captured in the curve of her eyelashes, the tilt of her chin.

I lost all sense of time. Suddenly, like a sea breeze billowing through a window in my heart, I knew I had a gallery of beautiful portraits, inspired by love. I showed them to her that evening. She looked at them, looked at me, looked at them again with disbelief, surprise, pleasure…

I’ve learned not to underestimate the power of refocusing, of reframing with love and gratitude whatever life gifts us with.