Welcome to the website ofSensitivity 101(Philip Nork)
My grandmother was of Bohemian descent and family was very important to her. Although we never heard the words, “I love you” flow from the lips of any family member, we knew that we all cared for each other by the loving symbols that we saw. Her house was full of them, mostly evidenced by the presence of flowers, roses in particular. There were always fresh red roses which meant love and beauty; pink ones for appreciation, yellow ones meaning “I care” and friendship, and most importantly white roses which symbolized remembrance and respect.
My grandmother also made sure that religion and faith had an important role in our life. Because of this, wine--both red and white-- also played a big part in our upbringing. She truly believed, “Drinking wine brings you closer to God.” And that sign hanging on her dining room wall that read, “God Works in Miraculous Ways,” had to be true.
Every Sunday my mom would wake us up early, help us get dressed, and off we would go to church. We were Catholic, so each week we would listen to a sermon about what God wanted us to do, how He wanted us to behave, and what was right or wrong. These messages came from a priest who I felt never really understood the meanings. He was an older man, who according to Catholic law, could never marry, never have sex, never have kids, and should never do anything wrong. How could he deliver messages about things he never lived? I sensed this man was not the real deal. I never understood how adults could put so much belief into one religion or one person. Later on, this same priest who taught us about right and wrong was removed from the church for stealing money, drinking, and molesting young alter boys. This was the second man who I felt had failed me in my young life. I always believed that there was a higher power, but I had more faith that what you did was much more important than the type of building that you did it in. I treated people the way I wanted to be treated; I tried to be nice, while also being sensitive to everyone.
After church we would go back to my grandmother’s house for a big dinner with even more extended family. One person I really connected with was my great-grandmother, I called her Nana. The two of us could sit and talk about anything for hours. She would tell me stories about when she was growing up. At first I didn’t believe her when she told me, “We had no television, no electricity, and no indoor plumbing. Living on a farm, there weren’t that many other kids around either. I spent most of my time reading and doing chores. My favorite pastime was making noodles with my mom.”
There was a feeling I got around Nana that I felt nowhere else in my life. It was calming and relaxing. Part of that came from her distinctive smell. It was a woodsy aroma, not really feminine but not overly masculine either. It reminded me of the faint, almost sweet odor of fertilizer. Nana said, “What your nose detects is years of working on a farm and then spending all summer working my gardens to make them beautiful to look at.” Whatever it was, it worked on me.
I got along so well with her that my mom would let me spend all of my summers with her and my great-grandfather up at the cottage they owned in rural Wisconsin. The smells there were special too. The air was always filled with fresh cut green grass, the charcoal scents of a hamburger cooked on an open campfire, and the brackish seaweed that lay on the beaches in the early morning. It was a great place for me to be alone with my thoughts. I would spend most of the morning fishing on the small lake with him, the afternoons lying on the grassy hillside next to the cottage looking aimlessly into the sky, and then the night talking to Nana as we sat in two rocking chairs on the screened-in porch that overlooked the lake. We would share the night by sharing life.
As we sat together, drinking homemade lemonade and eating special sweets that she’d made during the day, Nana became my first exposure to the occult, ESP, UFO’s, and the afterlife. Anything that others thought of as abnormal was normal to her.
Her lemonade was really the part I enjoyed the most. She always floated a sprig of mint on top. I hated the taste of mint, but loved the smell, so I would take the sprig out of my glass and put it in my pocket so I could enjoy it later.
On the subject of religion, she reinforced my conviction that it does not matter how or where you worship God, as long as you believed in Him. She said, “Treating people with the respect they deserve is the best way to get into heaven.”
We also had another ritual which I still do to this day. Whenever the smell of rain came to the air--you know the smell--we would wait excitedly for the storm to hit. As soon as it did, there were the two of us out dancing in the downpour. Nana told me, “Rain is the cleansing agent God sends to wipe away your sins.”
She also taught me the first lesson of my journey: “You are going to meet many people throughout your life and if you want them to remember you, you must always be a little different, you must be sincere, and you must make them feel special, especially the girls.”