The Scent of Memory

I recently wrote about the nose and how smells evoke memory. In our ocularcentric age, the sense of smell gets sorely undervalued. Scents process more slowly than sights. But it is the nose that most often evokes powerful and concrete memories, even bad ones.

I was struck by this fact again while listening to a recent interview with Bill Cosby accuser and former guest star on “The Cosby Show,” Lili Bernard. She recounted her attendance in the latest trial, and her poise in Cosby’s presence. “Being in a courtroom with a rapist was difficult but at the same time I felt empowered,” she said confidently. “When Bill Cosby passed by me, within inches, I was really pleased in that my heart didn’t quiver, my breathing didn’t become short. When he passed by me I looked at him with disdain as if he were disempowered. Being just inches away from him, where I could literally put my hand out and touch him, and not feel my heart quicken, and not to begin to hyperventilate, and be able to stand firm and not even feel afraid — for me it was a really empowering moment of healing.”

“But his odor,” she transitioned, as her voice broke. “Oh, shoot I’m going to cry.” She does. “Every time he passed by me in that courthouse, I smelled the tobacco. I smelled his sweat. I smelled his cologne. And that took me right back, because I remember the smell.”

2 thoughts on “The Scent of Memory

  1. Certainly smells evoke powerful memories. I was recently visiting a man with stage four cancer. He had recently been to a friend’s house in Kansas, essentially in the middle of nowhere, on a fairly isolated farm when his sense of longing was triggered. It was not by spending time with the friend, or reflecting on the brevity of life but simply standing in the yard and breathing in the earth and air of that Kansas field. See also:
    https://aeon.co/essays/how-our-sense-of-smell-works-as-a-mysterious-sixth-sense. Thank you for your writing and I look forward to following the blog.
    –Dale Smith

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