Thursday, August 8, 2013

and life makes love look hard

I sat in the dentists office, signing fifteen different HIPAA forms (which win the award for the most snooze-inducing forms ever and yet the most-entertaining acronym ever. HIPAA. [hip-ahhh] It's fun to say.) and I thought the lobby muzak sounded suspiciously like the Lord of the Rings soundtrack. 
And, a few measures of music later, I discovered it definitely was.
Whoever was in charge of the muzak decided that today was going to be Movie Soundtrack Pandora Station Day. I respect their choice. 
I don't mind getting tartar scraped off my teeth, as long as it's to the lyrical melody of Alan Silvestri's Forrest Gump score.
But, in general, nothing makes me feel like more of a failure of a human being than going to the dentist.
As I feel the layers of plaque removed (let's just say it was a good solid month in India before I remembered I'd packed dental floss. Me: Oh, look, I did pack floss. Huh, I guess I should use it. My poor teeth: Let us rejoice and be glad.) I felt the layers of disapproval being layered on, thicker than buttercream icing on a birthday cake.
A giant pit of guilt built up in the core of my stomach as the sympathetic-yet-concerned hygienist asked leading questions: "So, how often do you floss?" "What kind of toothbrush are you using?" "Did you know you have a cavity?"
My poor, neglected teeth's trump card was a cavity discovered on what was only referred to as Number 3. I don't know which tooth exactly is Number 3, but I felt like I owed the poor dear an apology.
I could feel the little enamel darling positively exuding injury, as the tsk-tsking hygienist came to its rescue.
The dentist is where teeth go to get a human on their side. 
In the dentist's office, your teeth are always right. 
You can't win. 
I had been entrusted with just twenty-eight little teeth, and I couldn't even take care of them properly. 
What kind of person was I?
A failure, that's what. 
As I heard the awful thud of failure ringing in my ears, the sweet cellos of Dario Marianelli's Pride & Prejudice soundtrack drowned out the voices whispering in hushed tones about "high risk" and fluoride treatments.

So, how was India? asked the dentist.

My mind instantly pulled up pictures of angelus bells ringing in the courtyard of Motherhouse; postulants giggling as they clean Mother's tomb; the cracking noise of Bus 166 squeezing by another bus in a narrow alley; the men shaving on neighboring rooftops at sunrise; the kids playing cricket in the alley; the taste of kulfi; Shakina bouncing up and down, screeching her joyful, toothless "EH BABA EH BABA"; running down the sidewalk in the middle of a monsoon rain, as people huddled under tarps and umbrellas, I ran home in the rain that drenched you to the skin with one drop; I thought of the smell of the pig family in the garbage heap; the feel of the bus going over a speed bump; sunrise over the Himalayas.

And then I thought of what it was like to drink clean water from a tap, what it's like to intentionally watch yourself turn on a faucet and stare at the clear, cold stream of water running out of the tap into your glass (not water bottle. glass).
I thought of what it's like to roll around on the carpet of my family room and wonder at how the clean white berber stretches for what seems like miles across the floor.
I bit into a bagel, and I almost cried, because I still haven't found anything that can rival a beautiful, fresh bagel with cream cheese.

I'm not sure what my tongue said, because the only words my mind said were:
 Death is so obvious there.
In this life, death surrounds us on either side.
There is something too comfortable about suburban USA. 
There is something strangely un-real about it.
Maybe because we have so many material comforts, which is a huge blessing. 
But as I sit at the dining room table with my mother, and look out onto the lush green of the neighboring yards, and the kids playing in the cul-de-sac, it is easy to be lulled to sleep.
There is a strange sense of peace which seems so fragile--all too easily shaken by any sort of crude invasion by anything unsavory or morbid.
It's easy to forget that death waits for us on either side.
In Kolkata, you couldn't escape that truth. 
You are surrounded by so many people who have no bubble of comfort between themselves and the daily task of staying alive.

In that urban arena, where Life and Death battle daily, you have two choices:
paranoia or peace.
Paranoia, living in the blue shadow of Motherhouse, is simply an unsustainable option.
Thus, you find peace. 
A peace that is unshakeable, because flesh and blood have not revealed it to you.
It is there. Somehow, it's there.
There, amidst the goats that shit on sidewalks, is a peace that surpasses all understanding.

But I didn't say all that to the dentist.
Maybe next time, when Number 3 gets the cavity filled.

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