Thursday, May 25, 2006
Walking to work this morning, I passed a house with three overgrown lilac bushes in the yard--a white, a lavender and the deeper, more familiar lilacy purple. When I was a few steps past them--and downwind--their sweet scent hit me. It was so thick the air was almost sticky with it.
For as long as I can remember, I've associated that scent and lilacs themselves with death. There is no logical reason for that connection--i never attended a funeral until my mother's when I was 26. But as far back as fourth grade, when we had a bush right beside the front porch, the scent of lilacs has stirred a sadness in me--a feeling of non-specific loss. I remember senior year when someone--I think it was Little Sister--put a jar full of lilacs on the kitchen table. I was driven to distraction--to the point of saying out loud, "They smell like death."
I'm sure Mom and Little Sister thought I was just bitching to bitch--and there certainly was ample precedent for that suspicion--but I really did have this overwhelmingly claustrophobic sensation--a feeling of airless rooms and mourning.
At the time I had only recently read Shirley MacLaine's book Out On A Limb and was, of course, convinced that the association was evidence of a past life. That there had been lilacs at "my" funeral or the funeral of someone "I" had loved in a previous incarnation. A morbid alternative: I, or someone close to me, had died or been killed near lilacs in bloom.
This morning, I wondered again about how or why I link death and lilacs and I thought of genetic or collective memory. Perhaps it's stamped in my DNA--a long-lost family memory or a cultural one.
Who knows? (Of course, I do know that wondering about it and devoting time and paper to it only reinforces it...)