The Day the Braces Came off
On Monday my fifteen-year old granddaughter’s braces finally came off and we celebrated the occasion by having dinner at a restaurant where she could eat Sushi. Her shining face with the new gorgeous smile adorned my Facebook page, although she observed “ew, delete this!” It’s a rite for teenage girls in the U.S.., if their parents can afford it that is. The concern for straight teeth is no doubt too all-consuming and focused on the carapace of our being rather than other more important parts but it set me to thinking. I never had braces, unheard of in the post-war years of my youth, but they must be no joke to wear as I observed them in my granddaughter’s mouth. They are expensive and cumbersome and so when they come off it is a great moment of liberation, and also a rite of passage into years to come, when greater maturity and even adulthood, oh wishful thinking (!), loom. I have been watching this beloved child from the time she was born; her life is intricately interwoven with mine. When she was very young I carried her around in my arms, singing lullabies until she fell asleep. We walked in the rain singing Raffi songs, “Robin in the Rain” and “Baby Beluga;” she “helped” me plant flowers in my garden, waltzed out of my door on dress-up day at school as a seven-year old, arrayed as the singer Pink. Gradually, her easy play and laughter together with the adults around her changed, and I became “embarrassing.” Until recently I caught her unawares in the hospital emergency room, while we waited for the tests of a minor injury, as I slouched up to her with my glasses on the tip of my nose pretending to examine her as Doktor Von Schlungeren uttering strange phrases in a fake accent. She burst out laughing in spite of herself, although she soon recovered her cool, and ordered me to stop on account of embarrassing her. A teenager in full flight, within the anxious circle of contemporaries, focused on the carapace, on what will not make her stand out as “different;” she is jealous, narrow-minded, narcissistic, unable to relate to the wider world. But then, occasionally, someone else becomes visible, the real person she is still becoming, aware of the necessity of kindness, concern for others, knowing the difference between good and bad. It’s a miracle, when that happens.
So, I was thinking, how as humans we have made such a huge mess of things, hating what is “different,” declaring others inside and outside our borders as lesser than, warring on the vulnerable and destitute, destroying the creation and each other. How narrow-minded, petty, jealous and narcissistic, even violent we appear. Braces are a kind of bracket on the teeth with the general purpose of straightening what is crooked, tightening what is loose. And I was thinking that human beings put everyone in these devices; that our identities are fenced around, with each group gaining its sense of self-worth at the cost of devaluing the other, the one who is less worthy or even worthless. We are like children, who hang on to our braces, who forget how painful they are, and how they must be discarded. We have not yet reached our maturity and existence in the braces-off world. If there still is a divine presence in our world, still a loving creator, who watched us from childhood, took us in her arms and sang us lullabies, beheld us as we stumbled around, picked us up and dusted us off… . If there still is such a Presence, after all we have said and all we have done, in the face of the Shoah, the starving children of Yemen, the murder of the innocents of the world…. Perhaps she too is waiting and watching for a time when the braces come off, when liberation and maturity will appear and our true humanity will be visible. It will be a miracle, when that happens.