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  • Aram Mitchell

root canal

I had a root canal yesterday, which was fascinating. The doctor and Nadine (who helped) used special words — saying things like distolingual and mesiobuccal and cusp — to orient themselves for exploration in the deep inner-landscape of tooth 19. Based on a particular set of skills and form of knowledge the doctor made actual decisions in real time about when and how to use different selections from the arsenal of tiny instruments at his disposal in order to perform a specialized, albeit rather violent, procedure that in the end provided me with relief from pain and pressure that had been trapped inside my face.

Wow. There is so much world.

Listening to the doctor explore the four roots of the second molar in the lower left quadrant of my mouth, took me back a decade and a half to the summer that I guided day-trips through a little known cave somewhere in southwestern Pennsylvania just north of the Youghiogheny River. I remember on the scouting trip I studied the twists and squeezes as I felt my way through the pinched insides of the hill. Then, on subsequent trips, I guided others through the cave following my mental map and the recollection I could feel in my body from having been there before.

Along with the root canal yesterday I also celebrated my birthday. Birthdays get me reflecting on the constellation of qualities that makes it possible to be a being who is living a life. The same combination of skill and will, required for endodontic feats; the same stuff, of muscle and memory, required to see us through the wilderness; these are the internal contributions that give shape to a life well-lived.

Skill and will and muscle and memory: These are the qualities I’ll continue to seek as I take another spin around a star on a life-giving rock in the cavernous expanse of space and time.

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