Lately I've been especially aware of the way my brain processes the sensory data that it absorbs throughout the course of my counseling sessions. When clients first arrive in my office, I am very sensitive to their appearance ... do they appear stressed, anxious, relaxed, angry, or afraid? As the session begins and they start talking, I rely heavily on my ears to connect me to their feelings. I take note of when their voice falters, when they laugh, when their speech becomes loud and rapid. But smell - smell is a sense that I rarely notice until after they leave.
It seems odd how frequently I return to my office after saying goodbye to clients at the door, and only then recognize the scent that they carried in with them. Whether it's the teenage boy whose cologne is so strong that I have to open my window after he leaves, the mom with a smoking habit, or the dad who leaves my office smelling a bit like a mechanic's shop - thick with grease and dirt - it always surprises me that I didn't notice their scents while I was with them. As I think about the way these few moments after a session play a part in shaping my perception of the client, even though he or she is not physically present, it reminds me that we all leave some sort of scent behind us ... even if it is not the kind that can be smelled by a nose.
This other type of scent is more felt than smelled. I notice it the most when I leave an interaction with a friend or acquaintance feeling drained, tense, and exhausted, or conversely, feeling energized, encouraged, and excited. It makes me wonder what scent I leave behind. Is it the worn-out staleness of self-centeredness and negativity or the freshness of a gentle and caring spirit? Ever since my freshman year of college, one of my favorite Bible verses has been 2 Corinthians 2:14, which states: "But thanks be to God who always leads in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of Him." I know that some days I really stink, but it is my prayer that, in a growing way, the fragrance that lingers behind me will be one of the sweetness of His grace.