Part One: The occurrence.
It happened again yesterday. We thought we would take in a New Year’s Day service at the church my son attended for several years. I know these people well. I love what they do.
My wife didn’t make it through the first song. The perfume was overwhelming. This is a church which has for years posted signs, placed notices in their bulletin and had a message included in their pre-service worship slides.
People who wear perfume to church don’t give a damn about those things. They ignore the messages. That’s for someone else, not them. Many of them belong to an older generation who feel they have already capitulated to too many changes in the modern church, perhaps.
But the culture has changed. Allergies and — in my wife’s case — Asthma triggers are more rampant now. That’s the reality of environmental reactions to common chemicals. Oh… and the perfume used today is probably cheaper and more synthetic than its predecessors several decades ago; pure unadulterated fragrances don’t actually bother her.
So here, for the umpteenth time, is her perspective. I might just have to boycott that church myself in solidarity from now on.
This is the Air I Breathe
This is what an asthma attack feels like.
First, you get a tickle in the back of your throat, way down in your chest. It’s annoying, and makes you cough.
But when you cough, it feels different. Like the air’s going out, but then not coming back in again. So you breath deeper, which moves the tickle deeper in your chest and makes you cough several more times.
At this point, you realize what’s happening and your chest starts to feel tight. Like you’re being squeezed in a giant fist and everytime you take a breath in, you can hear it, like a wind tunnel or a storm.
You start to feel a bit dizzy, light headed and need to lean on a wall or a friend for balance. Then, if you’re still standing, your arms start to feel weak and your legs get shaky because there’s not enough oxygen getting that far.
And every bit of focus you’ve got goes into breathing. Just trying to get enough air into your lungs.
So you dig out the puffer. The ‘rescue medication’. You shake it well, like the directions say, then empty your barely functioning lungs, put the puffer to your lips and, with your oxygen deprived mental faculties, try to squirt and inhale at the same time.
Then, to add insult to injury, you have to hold your breath so the medication stays in your lungs for a few seconds. Then, in 5 minutes, you do it again.
It takes about half an hour for the medication to do much good. At which point, you can at least stand up again.
I didn’t have asthma as a child. Like many, I developed it as an adult. Keeping it under control means taking meds everyday, as well as identifying and avoiding triggers. Which for me, includes perfume.
That stuff you bathed in yesterday before you left the house for church.
I smelled it as soon as I walked in the lobby and my first response was a knot in my stomach. Oh, crap. What do I do? Do I sit in the parking lot while my family worships? Do I insist we all leave? Run down the road to a pharmacy and buy a face mask?
Being a stoic, I decided to soldier through. I thought, How bad can it be? Stupid question.
Did you notice me shaking my inhaler and taking a dose? Did you find it distracting?
I was sitting near you unable to breathe. And it’s your fault.
I spent the rest of the service just waiting for the moment when I could stagger across the parking lot to my car. And it’s your fault.
I couldn’t listen to the sermon, couldn’t sing, couldn’t enjoy the solo. And it’s your fault.
I couldn’t stay afterwards to talk to people in the lobby. And it’s your fault.
I went home and spent the next hour in bed. I’ll need 2 or 3 days to fully recover. And it’s your fault.
I will never ever again visit your church. And it’s your fault.
Don’t bother to tell me that you have the right to wear perfume, that much perfume, to church because I don’t care.
I just want to breathe.
…This time my wife spent the entire 1 hour, 45 minutes in a coffee shop across the street, allowing us to enjoy the service. If there’s ever a next time, we’re all — all four of us — walking out.
Part Two: The Denominational Factor.
There is a very non-coincidental thread to all this. It happens only at one particular type of church. And yes, they’ve received copies of the previous blog posts I’ve written on this, such as this one:
It happened again this morning to my wife. Mrs. W. figured that by attending a “camp meeting” style service where the side of the “tabernacle” is all windows she would be safe. Sitting at home it was a fair perception, the reality when we got there proved quite different.
She notices these things more than I. But this time, before we even got inside — which is most unusual — I was aware of the distinctive scent of artificial fragrances. When we walked in the lobby, it hit us like a wall. We headed immediately to a seat on the side under a ceiling fan where we figured everything would blow away from our direction, but it was already embedded deeply in her lungs and was slowly wafting over to the side from the center of the auditorium. We settled on a seat next to an open window. She made it through the service without standing for any of the hymns or choruses; but at home, eight hours later, is still short of breath.
As she said — or perhaps whispered — on the way home,
- it doesn’t happen at the grocery store
- it doesn’t happen at the bank
- it doesn’t happen at the kids’ school
- it doesn’t happen at the post office
- it doesn’t happen at other types of churches.
The last point is significant. There is a very definite spike in perfume at this one denomination; and our schedule takes us to many, many, many churches in the course of a year, so we ought to know. Three of her last major attacks have taken place in churches of one particular denomination. Sorry… but that’s the way it is.
And these people don’t care.
I say that based on something else that happened this morning. About three “items” into the service, it was time for the opening prayer; what some of you know as the invocation prayer. At that exact moment, a woman walked up to the woman in the row in front of us, grabbed her hand and started into a prolonged greeting and attempt at conversation which lasted throughout (and drowned out) the entire prayer, which wasn’t just a few seconds. Complete and total disregard for anything and anybody else. Or God.
My first impulse — and trust me, I don’t know why it was these particular words — was to say rather firmly, “He’s praying, damn it.” I guess my brain was figuring that the d-word would be appropriate to the urgency of the moment. I didn’t. This means that I would have been swearing during the invocation prayer; which someone would argue is far worse. I let the impulse pass.
“So;” you say, “Why don’t you get the message and stop going to churches of this particular stripe?”
It’s not an easy decision to make. This is a denomination wherein my wife and I have a lot of history. Our youngest son has also recently made his home among this same group of people.
However, I think that, in terms of going to worship as a couple, we made that decision absolute and final today.
Apparently, with the passing of about six and a half years, we forgot our resolution yesterday. Time to renew our resolve on that, I guess. Will I send them a link to this? Not this time. I give up.
Also consider posting notices like this where you worship; make your church a fragrance free zone.