The Dentist’s Office

“Yeah, I’m all right,” he said. “I’m real good. I get up every morning and meditate some. Puts everything into perspective. Shows you that all that stuff we worry about – it’s just not important. We’re put here to have a good time. Just find a good space and you’ll be fine.”

The three women gathered on the other side blithely ignored my telepathic message: Are you people planning to step into the space where people work anytime soon?

No, they just continued fawning over their buddy, cooing that he could come and give them lessons in having a good time any day he wanted.

Spiritual guidance completed, he came and sat down. He greeted me, I greeted him, then buried my nose back in People magazine. My son’s name was finally called.

A minute later, a woman entered the office. She stood at the receptionist’s window, and once again, the beginning of the conversation was muffled, but then the woman’s frustration rose through the air and floated around the waiting room.

She was rooting through her purse. “I thought it was today. I swear it was today. Let me find my card.”

Before she could dig it out, though, the receptionist had discovered the problem. The woman’s appointment was on the same date the following month.

She sighed and snapped her purse shut.

“My mind’s just not right these days,” she said. “I just lost a baby.”

Pages stopped turning. Only machines, motors mindlessly humming, continued their life as it was.

She continued in a rush, her words like creek water tumbling over rocks after a heavy rain.

“At nine months – on my due date, the cord got wrapped around his neck three times and choked him. He died.”

That happens? I wondered, horrified. That really still happens?

And she went on apologetically, as if mixing up a date were actually worth apologizing for.

“I just can’t get myself straight yet.”

The receptionist offered as much comfort as any of us could have, words which we offer but that we know are as effective as an ant might have trying to stop a landslide.

The woman turned around, stooped, limp curls framing her wan bespectacled face. Still shaking her head, she pushed the door open and was gone.

You know, there are times I agree with the first fellow, the Meditating Guru of the Good Space. Or at least I want to.

I read my daughter a story, I joke with my sons. We go the movies, we eat meals, we take walks and sit by the sea.

What’s wrong with this? I wonder. Isn’t this enough for God? We’re working, doing our little part to make the world better – or at least not make it any worse. We’re enjoying creation, teaching the young, working on love and gratitude and all those good things.

Wouldn’t it be true that if every soul on earth had these simple, focused goals – loving God and neighbor – that we’d be doing exactly what we were put here for? What more could God want? Can we be done with the heavy thinking already?

Then I’m shaken into reality. In Eden that was fine. In fact, that’s what Genesis indicates our original state with God was all about: easy, intimate communion with God, simple satisfaction with the gifts offered to us in the present moment.

Of course, we botched Eden. Enter sin. Enter disintegration, decay and inexplicable death.

The good times stop rolling, and the Guru is left speechless.

We can try to build a spirituality based on finding the Good Space and staying there. I know I’d like to. But the reality of life on a sin-drenched earth is that sooner or later, the walls we build start to crumble.

And the reality of God is that He, the ground of all Good Space, doesn’t direct Himself inward. His life and His love is generosity outpoured, even within Himself. It’s called Trinity.

Pain is everywhere. It may not stride alongside us at the moment, but it will soon enough. And meanwhile, it walks with someone else, in and out of a dentist’s office, and echoes of self-absorbed cheer rattle uselessly in the vacuum of the Good Space.

(Amy Welborn is a columnist for Our Sunday Visitor and Catholic News Service and a regular contributer to the Living Faith quarterly devotional.)

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