Anne Lamott, dentist, faith, oral surgery, spirituality, teeth
Monday, April 6: I had four teeth out last Thursday afternoon. Today is Monday, and I’m dunking and gumming a danish at Au Bon Pain, having paid my $4.70 writing rent for an hour. ABP lacks Starbucks’ cave-like allure, but its brighter decor and better table selection attracts people having conversations, always a cheering milieu for me. There are only two others soloing it today, although one is goofing off on his Kindle, pen and pad neglected before him. (Yes, you. I see you.)
I am due to see my dentist in three or so hours, because the oral surgeon popped off one of my crowns during the procedure. I’d very much appreciate a little more chewing real estate right now. For the last three days I’ve had nothing but pasta (not al dente, alas), dairy in all its soft forms, and Jell-o® Instant Pudding. I thought this would be spiffy, but found something obscene in the rice bowl full of it: Treat and Dinner are two different things. On my way home I’m going to get some “nutritional replacement drinks.” More sweet stuff. Yum!
Useful Fact You Are Finding on the Internet: I thought the “several days recovery” meant “until we return to steak.” No, children. No. Maybe the nitrous oxide plays into this, but the oral surgery isn’t so much oral (as in dentist) as it is surgery (as in gaping bloody wounds needing to heal.)
I came home as perky as a mouthful of gauze could allow, my one concern being whether I would drool on the T–and then it was Saturday afternoon. I remember my son making sympathetic noises and fixing me ramen noodles. I guess this means I sort of fasted on Good Friday for the first time in years. Do I get Jesus Points for this?
If not, I’d better have racked some up for singing two services on Easter morning. 7:50 call, y’all. I – AM – MIGHTY!
Another tip: If you are a singer and ever in this predicament, do all the dumbass face and mouth exercises your vocal peeps have ever taught you, as soon as you can without swearing. They matter.
In the library now, having killed enough time and spent enough money in places lacking restrooms. I have an hour to go before hiking back up the street to find out my crown won’t go back on, I just betcha. I have been having flashes of being homeless: Lots of stuff to schlep–backpack and purse and a wet bathing suit in a plastic bag and a small parcel from the post office–and a book.
While wandering about, I went into the local spiritual bookstore, from whom I buy the shiny rocks my bestie in New Hampshire loves. This store can outfit you from tarot deck to incense, and that’s what I came for this time–incense and some pretty buttons for my cap. For some reason, they always have Anne Lamott right in front of the register: impulse chewing gum for the soul-stuff. I haven’t read her in years, not since I still had all my teeth and my faith and could chew God.
But I bought her latest on a whim, and left the store wondering, “Just what the hell was that all about?”
Once upon a time my spiritual jaws were in top form: After long and prayerful consideration, I pushed aside all the “no” and “I can’t,” and entered formal discernment in the Diocese of Baltimore to become an Episcopal priest.
Things went well enough for about half a year, and then my faith was extracted by giant pliers of Life, leaving behind bleeding caverns where I had also once had a home and family (which I admit were fragile to begin with.)
I fell down the rabbit hole: I had been battling too many stressors for too long, and this loss triggered my illness. You can accomplish great things while hypomanic, and I put together my ragged little pieces as best I could and crawled back to grad school, and after some more upheavals, at last I got well, and crawled back out of the hole. All I had left with which to chew God was a lacy bridgework of outward and physical signs criss-crossing the horrific gaps it left in my soul stuff.
I have a good life now–but now that I am comparatively well, I have been grappling with a sad and bitter question: Was my faith only a symptom of my illness, all that joy and sense of purpose just mixed up with the dreaded “religious ideation?” I have recovered from bipolar disorder I and dissociative identity disorder–have I recovered from God as well? Was that extraction not a tooth, but a tumor? Many good and kind people would say so; would congratulate me for coming to my senses. But then why do I feel so sad?
Because I do, and not even Jell-o® Instant Pudding can make it go away. I miss that life. I miss the magic of driving half an hour on a cold spring morning to light the new fire of Easter.
When my faith got pulled, tooth by tooth of it, and I was left sore and still numb in a homeless shelter in New Jersey, I ran into a wise priest who heard my story over tea and gave me permission to be angry with God. I clung to that, both the anger and the permission, and when my head told me to get my ass back to church, I did it, despite the hollowness of that cheated feeling filling my torso. So I joined choir because I knew that shaky as my soul stuff was, my Performer was intact, and it would bring me back to church,
It’s been nine years, and I have come to love that choir for its own sake. I’ve become a much better singer, but my sense of wonder, of grace, has remained cold and stiff, lying on the margin of my plate unchewed.
Dead or hibernating? And what happens if it comes back?
I’ve been dipping into Lamott, and having the feeling that something in my soul stuff has gnawed, or gummed, its way through a strap. But I don’t know what is now loose; I am both shaken and stirred, and as my tongue warily taps the forbidden places in my mouth, I am coming to face that I must do the same inside. And may God have mercy on my soul stuff, because it no longer knows where it is.