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Things I Tasted, Looked At, Smelled, Heard and Touched

As the sub-title above suggests, this chapter deals with the outer life and my inner responses to it. Since this is my first chapter and comes complete with a list of sensory categories in a sub-title, I will rely on that list to organize my thinking.

Things I Tasted

I love food, however, am not a person who lives to eat; in fact, I could exist happily on a same few meals, day after day. However, when I do eat an occasional festal meal, I love it. I used to be a somewhat fussy eater but outgrew it in my teens. I still will not eat beets in any form and I do not like Cheerios, but that’s my entire list of no-no foods (other than those to which I am allergic).

I have eaten rabbit. It was served one night in late 1967 at L’Abri in Switzerland where I was studying and working. Yes, it tastes like chicken, the dark meat. In Switzerland that fall I had my first encounter with a two-cheese fondue. The restaurant, in Lausanne, specialized in fondues. Five or six of us went to the city together on a day off. (At L’Abri, everyone had to declare a day off each week. We had Sunday off but everyone had to pick another day, usually either Friday or Saturday.) We had driven the 40 klicks from Huemoz (sur Ollon) “down” (NW) to Lausanne to sight-see, shop and eat. We gathered at the restaurant for a late lunch and we ordered the classic fondue which used Ementhaler and another natural Swiss cheese, melted in a white wine sauce. We had small, small glasses of Kirshwässer along with the fondue but our primary beverage was water. We really had very little alcohol to drink. Yet, that meal was truly the only time I have ever been nicely tipsy from what I had eaten. I was nineteen with only a little experience with alcohol and I can tell you, the experience was very pleasant. Growing up in an alcoholic home, it was affirming to have such a positve experience alcohol.

Things I Looked At

“Looked At” and memories from my time in Switzerland really do fit together. I went to L’Abri, in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, enrolled in the Farel House Study Program there, in part because of some good old Kodachrome® slides which Laura (then) Bradley had taken of the French Swiss Alps from her bedroom windows at L’Abri. Laura and I had met in high school. She was two years my senior. She came back from a year and a half in Switzerland just as my crisis with what to do after high school was heating up. I was an indifferent student and not at all interested in college and here came Laura with a list of courses taught at L’Abri: Basic Philosophic Problems (from a Christian Perspective). The Intellectual Climate of the New Theology, A Christian Critique of Art and Literature, etc. And then there were these incredible slides of the Dents du Midi and Les Diablerets, mountains which seemed to be just outside her chalet! I resolved after the evening Laura and I spent looking at her slides and discussing her time there, to go to L’Abri in the fall. The sight of those mountains did change the course of my life.

When I had been at L’Abri for less than three months, I discovered you could see winter coming on. Really. Winter is not so much a matter of North and South in a small country like Switzerland. In the Rhone Valley, at least, it is a matter of how high up you live. In those days there was always snow on those mountains, way up high. In the late fall, once the weather clears after a period of overcast, you can see that the snow line has dropped one or two or three hundred feet on the mountainsides along the whole valley.

One of my jobs at the “dorm” where I lived was to pick up my chalet’s bread and milk in our little town’s center. I would get up early every other day and walk down the back road to the Patisserie for bread. Then, twice a week, I would also go across to the Laiterie to pick up the milk. The back road was a cut out of the hillside, a one-lane path, more appropriate to a cart than a car, although nearly every day I saw a car or two on the lower parts of it where it widened out in the village. On my right as I walked on this path was the hillside, rising steeply beside me. On my left was the entire southern Rhone Valley. On a clear day, one could see many miles through and down that valley to where the northern glacier of Mont Blanc was visible near the Italian border.

So, one late fall day, I was walking down the back road and on that clear morning, I could see that the snow line had dropped overnight, to my eye level! I stopped and turned toward the hill beside me. The snow line had dropped to just below my height of 5′ 11”, across from my eyes. And when I slowly turned and looked out across the valley, at nearby hills and at three or four more distant mountains, the snow line was the same, a single, eye-level dado rail, all around the valley . I will never forget that singular sight.

Oh, and winter “arrived” that very next week!

Things I Smelled

This one takes me back to childhood. The best thing I ever smelled in my life was cooked oatmeal, first thing on a summer morning, in Martinsville, New Jersey. My grandfather (we called him Dadah) would get up early to make it. The room where I slept when we visited our grandparents was at the top of the back stairs, right above the kitchen. I would wake up to that smell of love, of solid, safe, comforting love. Truth be told, I could live without oatmeal and it is not the best smell on the face of the earth but for me, that smell is so attached to Dadah and his gentle, constant love and caring that for me there is not a more comforting scent on this earth.

Things I Heard

People used to joke about my fine sense of hearing. Between my ability to hear bits and pieces of things and my uncanny use of intuition to turn those bits and pieces into words, phrases and sense, I used to confound people who thought they were keeping a secret, whispering at a safe distance from me. Hearing is my much-preferred means of learning, which makes me the right guy for Bible study since the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments were meant to be heard, to be read aloud. The only reason I need seeing to learn are those details, especially names, which do not “hear” well.

At L’Abri, the primary learning method was to sit in an assigned study carrousel and listen to Dr. Francis Schaeffer and a few guest lecturers on reel-to-reel tape players. Because those big old tapes could be recorded at several different speeds, our players were all multi-speed, which meant most of us Farel House students learned how to listen to the tapes one speed up from the recorded speed. This, of course, made Dr. Schaeffer sound like Alvin the Chipmunk. We did not care. The brain thinks so much faster than a person can speak, that once we learned how to understand his Philadelphia/British English accent (yes, very strange) we could fly through our assigned materials at twice the speed with high comprehension.

At L’Abri, I did not learn to think or even learn what to think as much as I was given a first good set of categories within which to put my thinking. And I sharpened my ability to learn by hearing, at double-speed!

Things I Touched

In one year I touched brick pavement in Amsterdam, bricks in the outer walls of Trinity Church, Wall Street and the paving stones and building blocks of Hadrian’s Wall on the English-Scottish border. Each of these solid things overwhelmed me at the time but they also put me in touch with past lives from which my life had come. Each gave me a huge sense of gratitude for those who went before. More about these events in chapter 2.

Touch… I could go on but not without being very guilty of over-sharing…

Thank you, God, for all the great sensations of life! I am so very glad you decided to play around with stuff! And I am so grateful that you called our fleshy selves Tov Meod! (Very Good!) Feeling is very good and it is so very good to feel!