The joy of smell | Persons, places and things


By Barb Arland-Fye

It amazes me how much we take the sense of smell for granted — now that I have (temporarily) lost it because of COVID-19. Losing the ability to smell fragrances, aromas and even odors was something I feared throughout these more than two years of the pandemic.


When I contracted the virus recently, the initial body aches, head­aches and fatigue distracted me from the reality that I could no longer smell peanut butter on my toasted bagel in the morning, the body wash or shampoo I use in the shower or the fresh smell of laundered clothing.

I could no longer smell the fragrance of pine needles or flowers on walks in the morning or freshly mown grass. The odor of garbage in the trash or the faint smell that emanates from a dishwashing cloth when it needs changing also eluded me. I cannot smell the rubbing alcohol I use to wipe off my smartphone.


Odor isn’t the only thing that has vanished. The energy to ride a bicycle or swim laps appears to be in reserve right now for leisurely walks and working in the home office. Maybe this is a nudge from God to take a break and relax.

As these changes interrupted my daily routines, I felt a bit whiny and worried. Two months ago, during an encouraging follicular lymphoma checkup at the Mayo Clinic, my hematology nurse practitioner recommended a second booster shot of a coronavirus vaccine. I promised to follow through but had not, yet.

A “tweet” from Pope Francis on the social media platform Twitter caught my eye on June 29, the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, Apostles. “The journey of faith is never a walk in the park, but is a commitment that is sometimes arduous. Even #SaintsPeterandPaul had to learn how to gradually trod it all the way to the end, especially in moments of trial” (@Pontifex).

I have the tendency to imagine worst-case scenarios. What if the cancer is coming back? What if I never regain my sense of smell? What if I can’t ride my bicycle again? What if I never regain pre-COVID energy? The Holy Spirit nudged me during my morning walk today. Think about all of the things you can do, Barb. Think about all of the people who are dealing with a second bout of cancer and responding with grace and courage. Think about the people who can no longer ride their bicycles for any number of reasons. Think about the countless people who endured COVID-19 in a hospital unit or nursing home where they could not see their loved ones in person.

The Holy Spirit wanted me to see that message from Pope Francis. Five days after testing positive for COVID-19, I took another test, which was also positive. However, physically I feel better, as if I have begun to turn the corner. I thank God for the beauty of creation — and for the senses that I have available to me to savor that beauty.

My son Colin has been calling daily to ask how I’m doing and whether I’m out of quarantine yet. He can’t bear the thought of another weekend of broken routines. I said we need to develop a Plan A and a Plan B, and to hope for the best. Both of us need to lean into God and to be thankful for every breath we take. I hope that with each breath I will smell the joy of life.

(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at

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