I believe that I have mentioned that I used to be a grown-up with a real job at a book publisher. We were a sister company to a magazine and all our offices were in the same building. This was great for our small publishing staff because the magazine both gave and was invited to great parties, and we were always included.
The different departments took turns putting on fabulous monthly parties for the day the magazine was put to bed. But the day the magazine was delivered was a day of real excitement. We were all anxious to see and read it and that’s the bulk of what many of us did on delivery day – read the magazine. (In many ways I miss that job.)
So one day I got to work early knowing it is going to be magazine delivery day. This was in the very early 1980s, oh so last millennium. As I went about my copying and mail duties I kept getting of whiff of something. It wasn’t a bad smell, but I couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. When I finally got my copy of the magazine and had a chance to sit down with it I realized it seemed as though the odor was actually coming from the magazine. It was our first perfume insert and we were among the pioneers of allowing them to be placed in magazines as advertising.
I want you to know the magazine got a lot of complaints about it. A lot. People didn’t like the smell. People were allergic to the insert. People just didn’t want their magazines to have a personal scent.
And so perfume inserts died and no magazine in the United States ever used them again. Of course that’s not what happened. Perfume inserts are ubiquitous. They even come in the newspaper now. There are still people who don’t like them, but now we are used to them. Some people do like them, by the way, and Heloise frequently prints hints about using them as sachet in your drawers or putting them in the bottom of a trash can.
Perfume is a very personal thing. There is a reason that the big perfume sellers like to talk about your signature scent. They want you to always use their perfume so that you can be identified by that smell. But we don’t all like the same scents. Some are flowery. some are spicy. Some are heavy with musk. My grandmother only wore perfume for very special occasions and when she did she wore TABOO. It is classified as a luxurious oriental fragrance. Apparently that meant strong and heavy. That’s not to say I don’t like it. It does remind me of my grandmother.
Today’s reading is John 12: 1-11. Mary perfumes the feet of Jesus. She doesn’t seem to ask first either. Even when I am willing to smell like your product, I don’t want to be spritzed without my permission as I walk into the store. And yet, Jesus welcomes this act of devotion and sacrifice. Others around them criticize her for spending so much money that could have been put to more practical uses, but Jesus silences them and accepts her gift. I’m not sure that Jesus persuaded the naysayers that this perfume was a good idea. They simply stopped criticizing her in person (or in front of Jesus.) I imagine that his rebuke struck them every time they got a whiff of that very personal scent. And the smell of nard would have lasted for days.
Just be glad I didn’t decide to discuss the film Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006.) As Ken Hanke, critic for the Mountain Xpress (Ashville, NC) put it, “It’s a hard film to like, but it’s even harder to dismiss, simply because it’s never less than absolutely fascinating.” It’s true I have vivid memories of it, but would I see it again – no. It stinks.