They sent me down to the school dentist, Dr. McTaggart, who lived in a big brick building like a barracks, on the way to the station. Dr. McTaggart was a lively little fellow. He knew me well., for I was always having trouble with my teeth. He had a theory that you should kill the nerves of teeth, and he had already done so to half a dozen of mine. For the rest, he would trot gaily around and around the big chair in which I sat, mute and half frozen with terror. And he would sing, as he quickly switched his drills. "It won't be a stylish marriage-- We can't afford a carriage-- But you'll look sweet-- Upon the seat-- Of a bicycle built for two." Then he would start wrecking my teeth once again with renewed gusto.
This time he tapped at the tooth, and looked serious.
"It will have to come out," he said.
I was not sorry. The thing was hurting me, and I wanted to get rid of it as soon as possible.
But Dr. McTaggart said, "I can't give you anything to deaden the pain, you know."
"There is a great deal of infection, and the matter has spread far beyond the roots of the tooth."
I accepted his reasoning on trust and said, "Well, go ahead."
This little passage reminds me of a scene from the film Little Shop of Horrors (the original film or the musical), where a sadistic dentist treats a masochistic patient. In the original film, Jack Nicholson played the patient. In the musical, it was Bill Murray, and the dentist was played by Steve Martin. So, imagine, if you will, the young Thomas Merton in this passage played by Jack Nicholson, sitting in the dentist chair, eagerly waiting to be tortured by Dr. McTaggart/Steve Martin. That is the image I have in my mind.
In some ways, a person can become used to pain, especially if it's consistent and constant. That's why abused partners stay with their abusers. It's easier to deal with a pain you know, rather than something unknown. Facing the unknown is a frightening prospect, even if it means stepping away from some place, thing, person, job, habit, or addiction that is destructive. So, instead, you choose to sit in the dentist chair and let him remove your teeth, one-by-one, because you know it, are used to it.
I just got back from taking my puppy for a walk around the neighborhood in my pajamas and flip flops. I had my iPhone with me, with an app open to help me identify all the planets and stars and constellations. The app plays this celestial, New Age music that is designed to lower blood pressures and make you feel one with the universe.
I needed that walk, that music, those celestial bodies tonight. To help me put my life into perspective. Take inventory of stuff that makes me feel good and stuff that causes me pain. I need to do this every once in a while, because I tend to lose sight of all the grace in my life, Instead, I focus on the toothache, if you get what I mean. That dull throb that stays with me all day long.
So, here I am, back home and blissed out. I saw a shooting star. Startled a rabbit. Smelled the smoke of a backyard campfire. It was sweet and made me think of hot dogs and marshmallows. I heard low voices, laughing. A family sitting around that fire, telling stories, letting them drift upward like sparks into the chimney of night. It made me feel like I was ten years old again, all my hopes and dreams playing hide-and-go-seek with me in the dark.
Yes, there are toothaches in my life right now. A lot of them. But there are miracles, too. A lot of them.
Saint Marty just needs to put on his flip flops and go looking for them.
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