This is going to sound sadder than it really is. In fact, it’s not sad at all. It’s just life.
And life is terribly beautiful.
When I was a baby, I sucked my thumb, like I had undoubtedly done in utero, as babies will do. My big sister (then three years old) tried to get me to take a pacifier, but I would have nothing to do with it. Then, between the ages of one and two, I was given many painful medical tests, even being hospitalized, to determine why my legs were floppy, and my mother was very glad that I had my thumb to suck upon to comfort me. It was something that I couldn’t lose and that nobody could take away.
As I grew to the ages of three, four, five, and even six, however, I continued to suck my thumb. I vividly remember long car trips to Canada or short trips to Concord, sucking my right thumb while picking the fuzz off of my security blanket with my other hand. I’m sure many people remember seeing me as a child playing on the floor or sitting in my wheelchair, thumb in mouth, right index finger hooked over my nose, sucking away happily and obliviously. Although the thought may have been in the minds of some adults, including my parents, that somebody should stop me, I don’t that think anyone had the heart to take such a little comfort away from a disabled child.
Then came the dentist.
The dentist informed me, when I was about seven years old, that if I continued to suck my thumb, then my permanent teeth would come in crooked or flare out. Nothing could have convinced the vain little girl that I was to stop sucking my thumb more than that! From then on, I disciplined myself and learned to stop going to my thumb out of self-comfort or even just boredom. Sure enough (my willfulness can be a good trait) I kicked the habit on my own to save my teeth.
But it was too late.
If I hadn’t sucked my thumb for all of those years, then my teeth would be pretty near to aesthetic perfection. Instead, the top front teeth on the right side of my mouth stick out, and two of them overlap. If I close my jaw so that all of my teeth touch, I can stick my tongue out through the gap. Being self-conscious and, as I said, something of a vain girl, I’ve always disliked this feature, even mourning it a little. I have wished that someone had warned me earlier, that someone had broken me of the habit before it was too late.
Careful what you wish for…
Epiphany of Gratitude
Because of my muscle-wasting disease and severe scoliosis, I haven’t been able to feed myself since I was in my early 20s. I also can’t open my mouth very wide at all, the opening getting narrower and narrower over the years, first disallowing the entrance of a normally loaded sandwich, then a thin McDonald’s cheeseburger. Now I can’t even open wide enough to have an Oreo cookie put into my mouth. (Happily, an opened Oreo still works fine.) This also makes the job of feeding anything to me much more difficult for the feeder, as they have to try to get the forkful of food (which is really a half-full fork of food) into my mouth through that narrow space without knocking off anything and getting it all over my chin, down my shirt, and onto my lap. I wear a bib for a very good reason!
At supper the other night, we were getting a lot of spills. A lot. Then I reminded my father that it’s best to aim for the front right side of my mouth. Readjusting to put the fork where the flared out teeth are, he continued feeding me with no spills, no mess. And I thought to myself, “It’s a good thing that my teeth stick out.”
And there it was.
You know what that means, of course.
It means that it’s a good thing that I sucked my thumb for far too long and caused my permanent teeth to come in at an outward angle. It’s a good thing that the prettiness of my smile was greatly lessened and caused me consternation throughout my life.
If it hadn’t been for this particular disfigurement, then feeding me would be much, much more difficult. I might be reduced to only straw feeding by now.
Life is like that. We have our particular human feelings and opinions about the way things ought to be. Then, suddenly, we can realize that the less-than-ideal things of our lives have ideal benefits. This is true about little things. And it’s also true about big things.
I have a genetic, progressive disease and I am severely disabled. The continued weakening and collapsing of my body has been felt quite acutely by me lately as the muscles to operate my computer mouse and power wheelchair are fading fast in strength. Breathing is getting to be more and more of a struggle too. My body is tired.
But can the stilling of the body open a clarity in the mind?
This little life of mine may not be the life that I would’ve chosen for myself, but I don’t know what kind of life best beats with my heart and best corresponds to my eternal destiny. God, who made me, does.Tweet
God, who made me, knows that crooked teeth from too much thumb-sucking can be a gateway to easy feeding. God, who made me, knows that a few words dictated with pain and fatigue on a computer screen can be a gateway to inspiration and sacred wonder. God works in mysterious ways.
With the Feast of Christ the King and the American holiday of Thanksgiving coming up, let’s take a moment to think of how God’s ways have come through our disappointments and given us blessings — blessings that we may not appreciate as we should. As I celebrate my seventh year of Consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and my seventh anniversary of blogging here, I give thanks for those mysterious ways of God.
And for God’s sense of humor seen in a flared-tooth smile.
© 2020 Christina Chase
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Although crippled by disease, I'm fully alive in love. I write about the terrible beauty and sacred wonder of life, while living with physical disability and severe dependency. A revert to the Catholic faith through atheism, I'm not afraid to ask life's big questions. I explore what it means to be fully human through my weekly blog and have written a book: It's Good to Be Here, published by Sophia Institute Press.