Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | August 20, 2012

The Fragrance of Christ

Houston, Texas en route to Grand Rapids, Michigan

Like most people, I like the smell of pleasing fragrances — everything from perfumes to good Texas barbecue. When I was in high school, I always dreaded sitting next to an odd kid named James because he had body odor that could peel paint. I was never unkind to him, I just tried to keep a reasonable distance from him so that I would live to graduate. I soon realized that I wasn’t the only one who had to hold his breath around James. Others who struggled with his body odor poked fun at him and laughed behind his back. One day I could not stand it any longer so I mustered up the courage to talk to James. I still remember our conversation. “Uh, James. I don’t know if you are aware of this or not,” then I paused and deeply sighed. “James,” I continued, “I don’t want to hurt your feelings but you have really … bad … body … odor!”

James stared back at me, a bit stunned by my words, and replied, “Really? Is it that bad?” I nodded my head and said, “Yes, James. It’s really that bad.” As we continued our conversation I discovered that James did not use deodorant because he was allergic to it. So, the only thing I could think of was to suggest that he smother himself in baby powder to mitigate the toxic cloud that seemed to hover around him. He smiled and thanked me. “I never thought about using powder,” he innocently said. James took my simple suggestion and things got much better. He not only smelled nicer but we became friends. In fact, he once told me that I was his only friend. Other than the occasional times I spent with him, James was pretty much a loner.

I am on my way to Grand Rapids and, for some reason, God brought James to mind as I changed planes at DFW Airport. Having thoughts of James pop into my head as I walked through a busy airport this morning is about as random as it gets. I lost touch with James after we graduated and later heard from a friend that he had died. As I reflected on James, I recalled a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson that I read last week: “You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.” The very thing I did not want to do in high school — to tell a guy that he had bad body odor — was perceived as a kindness by James. It was that simple act that unwittingly opened the door to an unexpected friendship with a guy I otherwise would likely not have befriended.

Reflecting on James also reminded me of something Mother Teresa often told her Missionaries of Charity: “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier.” Mother Teresa encouraged the sisters in her order to go into the streets to find those who smelled the worst and to spread the sweet fragrance of Christ through unexpected acts of kindness. Each of us have opportunities every day to make things better for others through our kindness and through our words. Sometimes we end up doing something good when we least expect it, as in the case of my talk with James. Looking back on it all, I’m glad that James and I talked and became friends, even if only for a short time before he died. There is a lot of stuff in our world that stinks. That’s why I remain determined to look for opportunities every day to make our world smell a little nicer by spreading the fragrance of Christ. I hope you’ll do the same.

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