Our senses are how we connect with the world around us. By seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, and tasting, we appreciate life in its fullness as both an individual and a shared experience. Most of us are blessed with five fully functional senses, and it’s difficult to imagine how to get through life without any one of them. But how much time do you spend on a daily basis truly appreciating all of your senses?
I’m pretty sure cats appreciate their ability to smell every moment of every day – because that’s one of the primary ways they experience the world. A cat’s sense of smell is fourteen times stronger than a human’s. Cats depend on their sense of smell for survival. Scent signals allow them to find food, to determine whether another animal is friend or foe, and to identify their territory.
For me, it took losing my sense of smell temporarily to a bad cold to realize just how much I took it for granted. I’d had bad colds before, and I’d lost some of my sense of smell and taste before, but I had never so completely lost my sense of smell. For three days, I couldn’t smell anything: not the steaming hot herbal tea I drank several times a day, not the cinnamon I sprinkled into that tea. I couldn’t even smell the bacon a friend’s husband was cooking when I was at her house for breakfast one morning.
The experience completely unnerved me. Even though the rational part of me knew that my sense of smell was going to come back once the congestion loosened up, I was pretty freaked out. I couldn’t imagine a life without being able to smell things. What if I could never smell the intoxicating scent of that first cup of coffee of the day? What if I could never smell the scent of fall in the air? What if I could never bury my nose in Allegra or Ruby’s sunwarmed fur and smell that wonderful, sweet essence of cat? What if all those scents that trigger so many memories would remain just that: memories?
For someone like me, who is normally super sensitive to smell, this was a completely unsettling experience. I regretted every time I had ever complained about smelling something I didn’t particularly want to smell. I would have given anything during those few days to smell residual cooking odors, something I normally don’t enjoy, or even the smell of the litter box (not that that’s a big problem in our house, but to not be able to smell anything even while scooping the boxes was unbelievably strange.)
After four days, my sense of smell started to return. It didn’t come back all at once, because the congestion came and went. The first time I was able to smell my morning coffee again, I burst into tears of gratitude.
Two weeks later, I’m back to normal. The experience made me realize that our five senses are a gift, and not something to be taken for granted. And from now on, I’m going to really make it a point to appreciate all the beauty the world offers in color, sound, flavor and texture. And scent. I will never take my ability to smell for granted again.
Today, take some time to really experience and celebrate your senses. Bake some cookies, play some music you love, be aware of the dough in your hands, and smell the intoxicating smell of freshly baked cookies. Pet your cats and feel their soft fur against your hand. Take a mental pause, breathe, be present, and appreciate.
Of course, cats have that whole sensory thing down pat. Just look at Allegra in the photo at the top of this post: she’s enjoying the feel of the soft hammock, the warmth of the sun on her fur, and the breeze wafting in through the screened window.