when searching for visions of grandeur, sometimes you need look no further than the vicinity of your gums.
now you may wonder about my seemingly intense infatuation with incisors and interest in the brilliance of bicuspids. there may even be one or two of you who have a very foggy, random reminiscence of a discourse pertaining to all things dental written on this very blog site (for 99.8% of my faithful few readers who will thankfully have no memory of this, you can find that piece right here).
but it's not so much the actual minutia of molars that inspires me. rather, it's how so often, the location of revelation isn't inextricably encased in the stone of some sophisticated system of philosophy or buried on a bookshelf in tomes of theology or relegated to the realms of religion.
inspiration arrives (more than intermittently) in the pain of perspiration.
transcendence tends to appear in our transitory travels on terra firma.
magnificence may arise out of the mundanity of our mandibles.
bewildering joy can emerge out of the bones of our jaws.
last summer, i had my lower left rear molar extracted (before its decay led to my jaw slowly starting to rot away). this resulted not only in better overall health. i also got $100 for selling the gold crown that concealed the diseased detritus (see 'exhibit A' below).
the healing process for my gums that
was supposed to take 4-6 weeks took more like 3-4 months. but the hole
in my jaw eventually did close back up.
on my most recent visit back home to Missoula, i paid a visit to my dentist to have an old filling replaced. (miraculously, i had NO new cavities needing filling...a rarity for one whose tooth enamel is as durable as the artistic integrity of Adam Sandler, and as solid as the Lakers defense this season.)
while i was there, i had him take a look at the space on the left side of my lower jaw where my back molar once resided. i had noticed over the past couple of weeks that there was something sharp and hard beginning to protrude through the gums, and it was causing me some pain and concern.
was it the 'ghost of molars past' coming back to haunt me?
were my newly-healed gums starting to break apart under strain of all my maniacal chewing on life's gristle over the past year?
my dentist explained that when a tooth is extracted, sometimes very small fragments of bone from the tooth will remain in the jaw. those pieces will usually reincorporate themselves into the jaw bone over time. but occasionally, if the fragments of bone are dead, they will slowly work their way up through the jaw and emerge through the surface of the gums.
he proceeded to carefully wield one of his instruments of incision gently into the still-tender flesh of my gingiva and remove the perished particle of my post-mortal molar.
for about five days.
until i was flying back to California...and i felt the faint presence of another foreign particle beginning to poke its way up through the same area of slightly swollen sinew.
the reality of resurrection may be a once-for-all occasion for celebration in my faith tradition, once a year on Easter.
but it seems that the dead are rising in my mouth every few days.
as i ran my tongue over the small, sharp surface of the formerly-buried bit of bone, feeling that dull, distant pulse of pain, i was reminded of another 'extraction' i've had to endure in recent months of my mortal journey.
how the 'extraction' from my calling and community happened so quickly.
how the healing comes so slowly.
how fragments of something that was once alive for me remain imbedded beneath the still-tender surface of my still-closing wounds, in the depths of my soul and the marrow in my bones.
and how those microscopic morsels of formerly-mortal matter need to emerge out of the depths of that marrow and soul so that the healing can continue.
so that what is buried can resurface to new light.
so that what is dead can resurrect to new life.
when i noticed that first particle of pain piercing through the puffy pink protection for my jaw, i needed my dentist's help to dislodge and remove it.
last night, whilst fiddling about with the most recently emerging shard of exasperating soreness, first with my tongue and then with my thumb, i felt something ever so slightly give way, then pop out of the flesh of my gum and into the nail of my thumb.
the first time, the extraction was performed upon me and for me.
last night, i performed the extraction upon and for myself.
and with each extraction of another tiny piece of perished peridontium, there is an emergence of ephemeral exhilaration, a fleeting sense of freedom from the discomfort and pain, a temporary transcendence that arises like a rainbow in the midst of a storm.
for about five minutes.
until i feel two more tiny tittles of tooth, bumps of dead and buried bone being squeezed through that constriction of cartilage in the seemingly endless struggle where suffering is the soil that produces hope.
where visions of grandeur emerge out of chewing on life's gristle.
where beauty is beheld in the rose and the thistle.
where the groaning of guilt gives birth to grace.
where a pain in the jaw reveals the presence of joy.