I crush a piece of cypress leaf between my forefinger and thumb, let the pungent smell reach my nose, and my mind is right back when I was a boy of eight.
My world was small, confined mostly to my family and a few playmates from the neighborhood. Life was easy and fun; a few tears were shed once in a while but they dried as quickly as dewdrops in the sun. Then one day came the scent of cypress.
I came home from school, first noticed a sharp smell reminiscent of a fresh Christmas tree, then saw piles of cypress leaves on the floor. They were there, I was told, to be made into funeral wreaths. "Whose funeral?" I asked. "Mr L's son from church," came the answer. "He was an army captain, just died in combat. The funeral will be held tomorrow."
Of course there was a war raging on, but its echoes when reaching my little world became so faint I barely noticed. Even on that day, when death had touched someone I knew, I still could not grasp its significance. All my young mind could register was that acrid smell pervading our living room, rendering it both cold and unfamiliar.
The next day everyone went to the funeral, including the neighborhood kids. I stayed home alone, forlornly wandering through the empty house. The scent of cypress was still lingering in the air, and I was feeling strangely lonely and sad. In a subtle way, death had finally touched me and marred my innocent world.
It's been a while now that when I see a cypress tree, I feel compelled to break a leaf for its smell. Just to remind me of my own mortality.