Loose Tooth

During the week after Easter, I went to Alabama to visit my friends and my god-children. Eve, who is five, was proudly wiggling her front tooth, which was about to come out. I did not realize that this was her first tooth to lose, that she was, in fact, very excited about this mark of growing maturity. She kept wiggling it with her tongue, easing it back and forth, back and forth, until, a few days ago, she got it nearly all the way loose and called triumphantly for her mother to finish the job. Now she keeps poking the empty space with her tongue, seeking to understand this new person she is becoming.

Watching her, I found myself wondering when we become afraid to lose things. After all, loss is part of our life, essential to our growing. We discard our infant bodies, our light-up tennis shoes, our childish understandings. As children, we embrace all this eagerly, adopting more grown-up clothing, hairstyles, modes of speech.

And yet, most of us lose (yes, lose!) this early ease with loss. We learn to grasp what we must let go, to crave a stability that is death to us, not life. We close our hands and hold onto homes, riches, people, seeking to own and not to set free.

But Christ came to set us free. Like the man in the parable, we seek to build bigger barns to house our store of goods, rather than seeking the freedom to use what we need and to walk away from what might own us. (Luke 12:13-20) We shun our own growth, hold on to who we are even when that means letting go of the person we might become.

In the end, of course, we have no choice. Loss will come. We can meet it with our hands tightly clenched, or open them gracefully, even to pain, trusting that God will do something with the loss. Loss by loss, God strips away our immaturity, our impatience, our grasping desire to control. We lose our self-centered concerns, our lack of empathy, our arrogance. Bit by bit, God breaks open our seed-husk that new life may come. At the time, the seed knows only its dying. We who have seen the seed blossom know that we, too, will taste new life, not as we are now, but as God wishes us to be.

Elizabeth Bishop wrote it like this:

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
 
Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
 
Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.
 
I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
 
I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.
 
–Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
                                                           — One Art.
 
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3 Responses to Loose Tooth

  1. bluedoglane says:

    This is a great reminder about loss. But I also like the example it sets about connection, especially connection to godchildren. One of the things now that I live in a new town is being with my godchildren in church on Sundays. As I write I realize that, while we’ll always be connected, they have moved on, first to the teen service and now one of them to college! So the intended lesson comes through after all.
    PS I highly recommend spending time with godchildren. I treasure my time with them.

  2. etchingsdrm says:

    Having written about and read a good heap of Elizabeth Bishop, I’m particularly fond of this poetic selection. Bishop knew loss well, due to lengthy battles of alcoholism and depression. Her poem “The Fish” seems very apropos for today’s reading. In it, she describes the experience of catching a tremendous fish which captivates her, but that ultimately she resolves to let go. It’s true. There are so many moments in life when we wish to stash our barns with every last granule of experience, fish or no fish included. But then a time comes when towing a bulky grain silo of self-possesion suddenly seems counter-intuitive to life’s journey.

    One of my favorite illustrated children’s books is Arnold Lobel’s Fables. One of its best fables, “King Lion and The Beetle”, depicts a vain lion who is burdened by his royal vestements. The lion is so weighed down by his crown and jewels that he can barely move. When he crosses the beetle, he commands it to bow. When the lion fails to see the beetle’s bow, he leans down, falls, and is then covered in mud. The beetle scurries away and the lion is left to wallow in the muddied tchotchkes of his status. This lion was also afraid to lose, afraid to set aside the shiny honors of an accomplished life. The most rewarding growth we experience is when we are naked, out from under the cumulonimbus cloud of “things” that seem to certify our individuality.

    I’ve always reveled in the saying “He who dies with the most toys is still dead”. When we break from the toys altogether, that is when we have finally hit bedrock. And seeds always grow best when planted in it.

  3. etchingsdrm says:

    Having written about and read great heaps of Elizabeth Bishop, I found this Daily Cup particularly relevant. Elizabeth Bishop was well-acquainted with loss, having had several long bouts with alcoholism and depression. “One Art” calls to mind another Bishop poem “The Fish”, which also adroitly addresses loss and relinquishing our hold on the world. In it, Bishop catches a beguiling fish, but utlimately resolves to let it go. Today’s passage from Luke is so true. So many of us are determined to store up our barns with every last granule of self-possesion that defines our individuality. But then, the day eventually comes when we find towing a grain silo of permanence is a yoke of burden, and not an abundance of nourishment. The greatest growth occurs when we stand naked, able to count our blemishes, freckles, and scars as constellations that will build up to a universe of personal newness.

    One of my favorite children’s books is Arnold Lobel’s Fables. In his fable, “King Lion and The Beetle”, he describes a pompous lion who is so burdened by the weight of his royal crown and jewels that he can barely move. One day, the lion comes across a small beetle who he commands to bow. The lion fails to see the beetle’s bow and leans closer, only to fall and be covered in mud. The beetle scurries away, leaving the lion to wallow on the ground with his spattered tchotchkes. The moral of the story is “It is the high and mighty who have the longest distance to fall”. We can extrapolate from “King Lion” that those who cling to the nearest and dearest articles in their lives may fall farther and harder than those who stand vulnerable and untethered.

    A saying I’ve always treasured is “He who dies with the most toys is still dead.” In truth, we all must stand out from under the cumulonimbus cloud of “things” in order for us to hit spiritual bedrock. And it is on such soil that seedlings of grace and truth cultivate best.

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