Because of neglect of regular dental check-ups—or because I didn’t choose my parents wisely—I find myself needing braces for my teeth. People under 30 reading that a 62-year-old got braces last week are probably thinking what I thought when I overheard an octogenarian customer at the Oreck vacuum cleaner store order the very pricey model that comes with a forever warranty. Never mind all that. You whippersnappers should know that we oldies aren’t ready to roll over just yet. Braces are a vote of confidence in the future, a “rage against the dying of the light,” as it were.
But let’s face it, braces are not attractive. If the eye is the lamp of the soul, the mouth is its pearly gateway. What happens when you meet someone (say, a customer at the diner where you work) and that person’s first impression of you as you part your lips to smile is the assault of concertina wire where he expected gleaming ivories? I adduce as evidence our first introduction to the dreaded Darla in Disney’s 2003 Finding Nemo,flinging open the door to her uncle’s dentist office and flashing her metallic grin. You knew then that she would be trouble.
I have never inspected braces close up because one is too polite to indulge that curiosity about another person’s oral cavity. Now is my chance to stare in the mirror at the minutest details of the Inquisition rack whose sole function is to force my teeth to places they do not naturally want to go. There are first the disturbing little brackets, manning their posts in a row, like sentries of war. The frisson of terror is exacerbated by the tiny hooks protruding from each, which secretly desire to make hamburger meat of your gums—and would have their way if not for the waxy caps you preemptively apply. All this hardware is strung together with something called an archwire, well-named for its resemblance to the word “archenemy.”
The visual effect of the whole is reminiscent of the gleaming fenced perimeter of a level 1 prison campus. That’s if your teeth are well-brushed and the appearance is not even more disgusting. Someone contacted me to speak at a retreat in the fall, which, of course, I cannot possibly do in this condition. How can I be seen in public with a grill like a ’59 Edsel? I’m quite sure that everybody is talking about me, and everybody is saying how ugly I am, and people are going home from church on Sundays and the restaurant on Mondays telling their families around the dinner table about what has become of Andrée.
But it is a very odd thing that so far most of the people I’ve met have not even noticed anything different about me.
“… you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).