Getting Old

Motivation has been low of late, in case you haven’t noticed. 

Yesterday I was in the dentist’s chair for the second time in ten years or more – the first time having been about a month ago when I was informed that my otherwise untouched-by-dental-arts mouth needed to be invaded by a root canal on one of my molars.  I put it off for a while, after having suffered a fair amount of discomfort and headaches.  Then the pain started up again, and I finally decided not to pull the tooth and have the work done, despite what I consider to be an outrageous price tag for about three hours worth of work.

Once I was comfortably numb, the dentist began to work.  I hadn’t really thought a lot about what was involved with a root canal and a crown.  But by the time the smoke and the acrid scent of ground enamel and tooth started to fill my mouth and then my nose, it was really too late to pause to ask for enlightenment.  Soon enough, and with surprisingly little pain, my molar had been ground down and he was filing away at each of the four roots.  He informed me as the nerve was “half-gone” and then finally completely removed.

It was an odd feeling.

My mother is a collector of things, things with sentimental value.  Clothes, toys, mementos big and small, a life of memories that she can look at as she walks through their home.  I’ve inherited a certain amount of that sentimentality.  Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised then, to feel this twinge of sorrow as I sat drooling under the dentist’s drill.  I still have my appendix.  I still have my tonsils.  Beyond hair cuts and the occasional nail trimming, I haven’t lost a part of me since my baby teeth.  And here in the space of a few hours I’ve lost half of a tooth that has been with me for 30 years or so, and a nerve that was there before I was born, mapped out and outlined at conception.

It was saddening.

It has been said – by whom I can’t recall – that we spend the first half of our lives acquiring things, and we spend the second half of our lives having things taken away from us.  Little by little.  Imperceptibly at first, and then with increasing obviousness and impact.  A tooth here, a nerve there, then a driver’s license, then perhaps even the ability to live on our own, in our own home. 

I am privileged to serve people who are at least a few years – if not quite a few years – older than myself.  I am amazed at their resilience.  Their quiet strength and determination.  The way they handle adversity and the challenges of having things taken from them.  But perhaps until yesterday, as I sat in the dentist chair with the faint whoops and hollers of contestants on Deal or No Deal? in the television in the background, I couldn’t really relate.  My life has been by and large thus far a series of transitions into larger arenas, acquiring new skills, new abilities, new responsibilities. 

But as I feel the tenderness of my jaw in my tentative chewing on a temporary crown, I think I understand a little better what they go through.  Only a little better, of course.  A root canal is not the loss of a spouse or the freedom to go where you want when you want.  But it was a first – and permanent – reminder that I am not getting any younger.  That I may have lived more than half of my life already. 

That I am mortal

Not mortal in the hypothetical way that one is aware of mortality from reading John Donne or Shakespeare or presiding over a funeral or visiting someone in the hospital.  Mortal in the bones.  My bones.  Mortal in the sense that more and more frequently I will be stopping in to visit with sickness and death as they take time to visit not just parishioners, but family, and friends.  Mortal in the mirror.  Mortal in the second’s hesitation where before there was only the crass fluidity of thought and movement of youth.  It’s a little thing, losing a tooth, a nerve, and in the process to gain a crown.  Because as much as I would like to rage against the dying of the light, my rage is not what sustains that light or causes it to ebb. 

I give thanks in these moments that I know in Whose hand I rest.  That the maker that called me forth, designed me at the start of all creation and brought me to fruition and has sustained me lo these 40 years, holds also in His hand the day of my passing.  That when it is my turn to remind others not to weep for me, it will be an honest enjoinder, because the tendrils of my mortality that covered my eyes in death, will in that same instant be torn away from me for eternity, and I will look out clearly on the peace of my Lord which has – and perhaps always will – pass all of my understanding. 

3 Responses to “Getting Old”

  1. Dianne Says:

    Having spent the past 8 months going tothe dentist or periodontist, I must admit that this posting regarding your root canal brought a smile to my face. The peace of God truly passes my understanding.

  2. Paul Nelson Says:

    I have a newfound respect for all you’ve been through!  In addition to a realization that I have no idea how that must feel!

  3. Loss | Living Apologetics Says:

    […] reminded me of my thoughts on a related occasion a few years back.  Those thoughts are pretty much the same […]

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