Sunday, October 16, 2011


“When the student is ready, the teacher appears,” says the old Buddhist proverb. I didn't think my teeth had the potential to teach me anything, but I'm learning to listen.

I am not a person who harbors regrets. I don't walk around wanting to rewrite my life. But there is one day I would change if I could: the day I fell off my bicycle and chipped my front teeth. I was eight-years-old. If I had only been able to get my hands in front of me, I would not have chipped my teeth.

The first time I looked in the mirror after it happened was traumatic. I remember thinking: I'm broken. I'll never be perfect again. And as if to fulfill that vision, the story of my two front teeth involves faulty bonding, unnecessary root canals and two sets of improperly fitting crowns. I have not been able to smile with ease since the day my teeth met with the gritty pavement and left pieces of themselves there. Thirty years of trying to hide the evidence that I was broken.

But it was all my creation. Only lately can I see that when I chipped my teeth, I manifested physically what I already felt about myself. So that I would never need to explain that I was broken on the inside, I made it as plain as the smile on my face.
"Moonset 7am"   Photo by Kathleen Keagy

Over the next few months, that will change. After an arduous search, I have found a dentist, Dr. Carly, to repair my teeth who is both skilled and compassionate. She is connecting me with a lab technician who considers making teeth to be an art. Rather than cookie-cutter Hollywood veneers, his trademark is creating teeth that are as individual as the person he is creating them for—with striations and color variation and small imperfections he calls “beauty marks.” Ultimately, this dentist and this technician want me to look in the mirror and see myself.

See myself. But I have to be willing to do that.

Before now something was blocking my ability to see myself clearly, but that something has moved aside. I could say it was the recognition that nobody's perfect, but I think that is doubly wrong. Reaching for the ideal of perfection is the flaw. Seeing the things that make us different as imperfections is the flaw. I am not broken. I arrived in this world exactly as I was meant to—with "beauty marks" that make me who I am.

Like when a cataract is removed from an eye, the dark shadow of shame is lifting from inside me. And soon it will be lifted from my teeth, too.

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