One of my birthday presents this year was soap. My wife bought me No. 6 soap from the Caswell-Massey company. It is the same soap George Washington, John Adams, and the Marquis de Lafayette used. The scent profile is strange. It smells medicinal, woodsy, and a little floral, and I’ve grown to appreciate it. This morning I used the last wafer-thin bit. As I sit here smelling like the 1700s, I can’t help but notice how wide the imagination is.
The imagination transcends dragons and unicorns. Think about it. Our imagination is so elemental that without it we couldn’t even call a door a door. We’d have to call it a rectangle of wood (or a collection of atoms). Concepts and categories are unavailable to us without the imagination’s ability to group particulars into universals. An ignited imagination will not only lead us through literature, but also through history and theology—not only through Narnia and Middle-Earth, but also through Valley Forge and Galilee.
For the past few months, my showers made me think about the mythic heroes of our American Revolution. Sharing something as pedestrian as a brand of soap with some of our nation’s founders makes them come alive in my imagination. These concrete details are more than trivia. They are often the starting point of a desire to learn.
In 1789, George Washington traveled to his inauguration on a barge. Onlookers followed in a number of smaller crafts. Thirteen men dressed in white rowed the barge, and George Washington smelled like I do now. While I can’t share the smell of soap over the internet, I can share some interesting details about him. Maybe one of them will provoke your imagination and give you a renewed appreciation for this great man.