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My Name Is Iden | Smell This

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By Iden Crockett

Think back to that moment — we’ve all had one like it — when you are standing there with a friend. Your friend finds something new and interesting and, for whatever reason, they decide to investigate this novel item by smelling it. Instantly they recoil, their face crumpled up in disgust like a frustrated poet’s discarded rough draft. Your friend taps you on the shoulder.

“Oh man, this stinks. Here — smell it.”

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Some friend, huh?

I really didn’t think that I would fall into the trap of writing holiday-themed columns. I honestly thought that, but now that I really think about it, I’ve thought a lot of things about myself that turned out to not be true. So here it is. My New Year’s resolution advice: Smell it.

Smell it. Smell the horrible stinky thing that your “friend” is shoving underneath your nose. Take a long, deep inhale, because this person is truly your friend and they are offering you a beautiful gift: the gift of a survivable negative experience. I spent nearly 25 years in EMS. I can’t even begin to tell you all I’ve smelled. Horrible, horrible smells, and I am grateful for each one of them.

These experiences are what teach us, they are how we gain wisdom, and — let’s face it — they make for great stories.

It seems to be a cultural goal of ours to seek comfort and avoid any unpleasantness. My garbage bags are scented, for heaven’s sake! In our hearts, we know that a life without challenge or hardship is impossible, but every day we try to avoid even the smallest discomforts. This is such a mistake — an instinctual one, perhaps — but I believe we should actively fight against it.

We need these foul smells because most of us don’t really suffer. Most of us don’t live in a war zone. Most of us have homes and feel safe. Our lives are roses and fresh-baked cookies 95% of the time. When that is your everyday, you don’t even notice the wonderful aromas, and when that is your life, it becomes too easy to forget that other people wake up to very different smells.

I was blessed to smell the rotten feet of a person living in a drainage tunnel, blessed by the pungent ammonia of old urine, blessed by the eye-watering perfume of recently cooked methamphetamine. Blessed because I was offered a chance to experience these things and survive. These smells are memories, they are stories, and, most importantly, lessons. I learned to appreciate. What greater gift is there?

When I walk into a room that smells of cookies, I also remember that there are many houses that do not, and will not, smell like cookies. When I put a bouquet of flowers to my nose — I love flowers so much — I wiggle my toes and appreciate my dry feet.

You don’t need to seek these extremes. You do not need to be homeless or addicted to drugs.

You do not need to be a paramedic. You need only recognize the opportunities you have to be uncomfortable so that you can realize — I mean, really think about — how comfortable you are.

And how lucky are you to have a friend offering to share with you this incredible gift? All you have to do is get your nose in there and sniff.

*Iden Crockett is an artist and writer. She lives in Yellow Springs with her wife and three children. You can follow her work at


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