Holey trinity: Mother, daughters, and the holy nose


I was always bargaining with God in the back seat of the car on the way to church about picking my nose.

This is the last time, I promise, then I’ll never pick my nose again. I really want to go to heaven, so this is the last booger, I swear.

Then it would itch.

Or it was an especially dusty day.

Or I could feel it in there, waiting. God would understand.

My Dad always picked his nose in our pick-up truck on the way to school. I pretended not to see, staring out the window, peripheral vision betraying me.

There were all kinds of hairs in there, I knew. I’d seen those, too. He was 6’6″ tall, so it was difficult not to look anywhere but up his large-nostriled nose.

If I hadn’t picked my nose so much as a kid, then maybe my left nostril would be the same size as my right one.

Now I’ll never know, because I’m not a kid anymore.

Now I have my own kids, and I’m sure they’ve seen me pick my nose a few times. God knows. Okay, many times.

My daughter picks her nose while she reads books. Completely absorbed, absent-minded picking. I’m not sure where they end up. I try not to stare that long.

Upon being introduced to Michigan State University’s mascot at age 4, she promptly picked her nose. Sparty got down on one knee, nose to nose, and brought his felted finger to his fuzzy, oversized nostril in mutual understanding.


Most mammals can’t pick their noses, it’s not physically possible. Imagine a cat trying to do that. Or an elephant.

Or a whale.

It’s impossible to pick your nose while snorkeling and listening to millions of tiny underwater clicks–fish mandibles munching minerals–while feeling the strangest, strongest desire to never exhale carbon dioxide ever again in order to preserve this beautiful, intricate, aquatic dance of astonishing color, light, and texture.

Coral icons, layer upon layer of life, plated with sun-gold.

Is it only hominids who dig for gold? For there is something extremely human about nose picking. The pointer finger neatly fits (but not the thumb). It is completely self-directed. An exercise in free will. Public or private? Long or short? Deep or shallow?

I’ve outgrown my original deal with God. As my daughters and I grow older, there is more reason to believe God delights in creating life, not bargaining with it.

My daughters’ noses were cleared after their first, startling, beautiful breath fresh from my womb.

God took a deep, loving belly breath–in through the nose, out through the mouth–and dust swirled into life. The same dust forged in exploding stars, the same dust we pick from our noses.

Now I know (tapping the side of my nose) that the nose was created not just for fingers, but for aromas–detectors of danger and decay, gateways to otherworldly pleasures and pains, solidifiers of memory, pathways for life’s breath–inhale and exhale.



my Mom’s perfume and favorite, faded pink and purple plaid shirt.


my shoulders drop.


the top of my daughters’ tiny heads, smooth baby scent tinged in tiny, translucent hair.


I close my eyes


my husband’s aftershave, a can he used for more than five years because he loves adventure, not things, people, not self-grooming.


I am still


motorcycle exhaust and 5-year-old me between my Dad’s arms, leaning into every turn without fear, hair flying, elation, alfalfa, and dust filling my nose.


I miss him


asphalt after rain, nettles in spring, pine needled trees on Mt. Adams, strawberries in warm June sun, cookies in the oven.


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