On grey, chilly afternoons, as the sun tips its hat and the day winds toward evening, I strike a match and light my Tobacco & Patchouli candle. The flame dances in the brown jar, casting wide the aroma of old barns, stoked pipes, fresh mint. I think of my dad, a faithful Baptist pastor his whole life and how as a boy whenever we'd walk past the tobacco shop in the mall (the shop with the powerful, life-size Chieftain carved out of cherry wood standing by the entrance), he'd tell me (and sometimes quietly, as though he was letting me in on a scandalous secret) how he enjoyed the smell wafting from the doors: the Black Cherry, the Virginia Caramel. Dad would never allow a pipe to touch his lips, but he showed me how to appreciate the good smell of this good earth.
When my wife handed me the candle as a gift, I had no idea what Patchouli was (Wikipedia later informed me it is a bushy herb of the mint family), but my memory, my senses, did not need any instruction. With my father, I’d encountered this goodness, this grace.
I wonder if I’m inviting my sons into these earth-bound encounters. I wonder if, with all our virtual and digital advancements, we’re losing the smells, the textures, the grit, the wonder. Best I know, you cannot smell an iPhone. Best I know, you cannot taste a megabyte. Virtual realities are exactly that—virtual. We need the smell of fresh cut grass, of a crackling fire as we huddle close for warmth. We need to taste the grilled corn, sprinkled with spicy salt as butter (the real stuff) dribbles onto our chin.
In his novel Jayber Crow, Wendell Berry describes the cold, lifeless environment of The Good Shepherd orphanage: “I wish I could give you the right description of that atmosphere. It was soapy and paperish and shut-in and a little stale. It didn’t smell of anything bodily or earthly. A little whiff of tobacco smoke would have done wonders for it.”
This is why I light my candle. A little whiff of tobacco smoke does wonders.