The “scent of home” – if I were to ask you what that means to you, what would you say? I’m not talking about the Febreze commercials where your son’s room smells like a gym locker. This is more along the lines of a scene in Disney’s Ratatouille where the food critic flashes back to a moment in childhood, sitting at a rustic kitchen table where someone who loves him has prepared a meal for him. Each of us have experienced moments like that, where a sight or scent triggers memories of a time and place that once was home. For me it can be fresh sawdust, taking me back to hours spent in my dad’s workshop, sawing and hammering as a child. Or, a salty sea breeze, and I’m suddenly 7 years old again, building castles and burying jellyfish in wet sand by the Atlantic Ocean. Certain soaps remind me of my grandmother’s house and of her hug. Home. For some, “home” is about the people around you. For others, it’s a place or country where you were raised or spent years of your life. I’ve heard that missionary kids, military families, and others who moved several times growing up may struggle to pinpoint a particular place they’d call “home.” Yet we all have an idea of what home is or could or should be.
Today’s portrait is based on a senior photo-shoot I did several years ago. When I talked with Anya about what setting she’d like for her photos, she mentioned a prairie preserve nearby. She said the prairie paths and flowers reminded her of the Ukraine where she grew up. Anya is an American citizen now. So, in most ways, America is home now. But yellow and blue is woven into the fabric of her character, her values, her family’s cultural heritage. If you look up the meaning behind the Ukrainian flag, you find that yellow represents fields of wheat, and the blue symbolizes sky, mountains, and streams. No surprise then that nature, fields of wild flowers, and fresh air are the “scent of home” for Anya.
C.S. Lewis talks about the common human longing for our own “far-off country.” In The Weight of Glory (Oxford, 1942) he says, “These things – the beauty, the memory of our own past – are good images of what we really desire…but they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never visited.” He goes on to comment about philosophies that try to “convince you that earth is your home…by trying to persuade you that earth can be made into heaven, thus giving a sop to your sense of exile in earth as it is.” But, he continues, “we remain conscious of a desire which no natural happiness will satisfy.”
For myself, I can attest to a feeling that the sense of “home” I long for is elusive. Were I to return to my 7-year-old self at the beach, would I really savor the sun on my face and the salty taste on my tongue? Or would I more likely be squabbling with my brother about who gets to use the shovel next, and nervous about jellyfish stings when I do dive into the waves? Time has a way of filtering our memories. Like a soft-focus lens, it blurs the edges, emphasizing what we want, need, long for and deemphasizing other details. According to Lewis, “home” is elusive, not because it never existed, but because our desire points us to a home we haven’t visited yet…a “splendor, which nature fitfully reflects.”
Anya is someone I’m blessed to know, because she and her family live out their faith. And, in living out that faith, they remind me of “home.” When we’re goofy and laughing and joyful, it’s a taste of joy that will one day become eternal reality. When we’re talking about the ups and downs of life, they keep me grounded in the truth that there is more to this world than what I see with my eyes. When we’re introducing one another to foods from the other’s culture, it’s a tidbit, a sampling of the coming feast in a country we haven’t yet visited. When we’re shooting photos in a field of wildflowers, the colors and scents surrounding us are merely a ghosting of the flower we have not found…the aroma of a home yet to come.