by Sarah Van Diest
We sat around the long, wooden table talking about life. Breakfast for dinner is the best, everyone agreed. It’s like getting to have dessert as the meal. Eggs and sausage bring a bit of balance to the pancakes and pastries. It’s like cheating, but not… or maybe I just want to believe it’s not. Either way, we all agreed, breakfast for dinner is the best.
Each person at the table had stories to share. Each life had been impacted by events and circumstances, people and relationships, health and wealth, or the lack thereof. Telling our tales can be clumsy. We feel the pressure of time, not wanting to take too much of it; we feel the urge to hold back or put a happy face on while we speak; we feel the desire to be understood and even more strongly, not to be misunderstood. But each one has a story.
A meshing takes place with the stories as they pour out on the table and blend and mix with the others. Details may be lost and specifics combined or fused, but rising out of this melting pot is a scent familiar to us all. We recognize it. The aroma that fills the air and makes its way to our souls is the distinct smell of our humanity.
I can see your face may have just cringed at the thought of smelling such a thing. Your nose squinched a bit and wrinkled up. We tend to have an aversion to the thought of our humanity. It seems to us to be something unclean, dirty and somehow reminiscent of swine. At least that’s what my imagination proclaims. I understand that. We are dirty in many respects. We have soiled many things by the works of our hands and the words from our lips. But does that mean we are dirty?
When I was about 24 years old, I lived in China outside of a city called Changsha. The apartment was made of concrete and was surrounded by rice fields, water buffalo and loud speakers that sounded off at the crack of dawn awakening the entire community with daily propaganda. A bus ride into town and a walk down the streets invariably resulted in a moment or two where the nose was violently assaulted. Though there was beauty to be found, there were also many smells where the description of “stench” was insufficient.
Of one particular smell, I never came to know its source, though it was a frequent one I encountered. “Dirty-dog-soup” was what I called it. I have no idea what it really was. It may have been just that, I don’t know, but it was a foul and pervasive smell which, when it hit, you felt as if you had been accosted by an angry assailant. It left you wondering what you had done to deserve such harsh treatment.
I hope that dirty-dog-soup, or the like, is not what you think of when you think of the smell of humanity, but it may very well be. But I digress….
There is a fraternity at work here as our stories mix and mesh. We bear the encoded patterns that declare our familiar relationship. There is no doubt; we are all related. And by this relation we find we also all have the same means with which to experience our shared circumstance, that being life on this soil, under this sun and moon, and with the same God who loves each one.
The smell is familiar and common because our beginnings and endings are as well. Our stories differ, but they are the same. All of our hearts yearn and mourn. All of our souls hope and despair. We all laugh and we all cry.
Humanity may have its own scent, but so does the love our Father has for us. As the aroma from our lives and stories rises, it is infused with His glorious scent. Each story told has the distinct imprint of His love and grace. No story, no tragedy, no joy, nor sorrow is not impacted by the love of God. And our hearts know this to be true.
When we think of the moments in life when our picture of God was the clearest, nearest and most real, we know those moments were somehow born from the stories of our greatest pains and deepest needs.
Our lives, not the eloquence with which we tell our tales, but our lives are the pots from which His aroma rises. The smell of humanity is not dirty-dog-soup, it is the scent of our Father’s love and grace.
And if you get to choose, I’d pick breakfast over dirty-dog-soup any day.
“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life and who is adequate for these things?” 2 Cor. 2:14-16.
Currently, she works with her husband, David, in their agency, the Van Diest Literary Agency. Writing is a growing passion for her as she hopes to bring hope to hurting hearts.