When a problem or sorrow defies easy solution, I think of the elderly endodontist in Houston who soothed my spirits while he fixed my teeth. He had an office filled with Native American art, which he bought on vacation at reservations, and he played Classic Oldies Hits on the radio, to which he whistled harmony, loudly, while he worked. The first time I went to see him, I did not yet find these things familiar or comforting. I was in deep pain, so confused I couldn’t tell exactly which tooth hurt.
He took something that looked like the bottom of an icicle and tapped it methodically against each of the teeth that I thought might be the aggressor. Nothing. Then he tried the tooth to the left. Nothing. Then he tried the tooth to the right.
“Ah!” he said, and got out that probe thing, the one with the point on the end, and turned it around. He banged the thick, ridged handle on each of the teeth he had tried before. First tooth: nothing. Second tooth: nothing. Tooth to the left: nothing. Tooth to the right….
I screamed, and jumped back in the seat. I covered my mouth with both hands and hot tears ran down my face. I was ashamed at so big a reaction, but he handed me a tissue as if this happened routinely, and put away the instrument.
“That,” he said, “is what is known as a ‘hot tooth.’ I’m not going to touch that tooth today.” I relaxed slightly. He continued, “We’re going to treat this with tincture of time.”
I said, “Tincture of thyme? What’s that, some herbal cure, like oil of oregano?”
He said, “No, t-i-m-e. I’m going to put you on antibiotics for two weeks, and then I’ll try to touch that tooth. I can’t get anywhere near it now.”
Two weeks later, the tooth was ready to be treated. My fever was gone, the swelling had stopped, and healing could begin.
I cannot whistle.
But when confronted with a thorny problem, a suffering child, an affronted friend, now, sometimes I step back.
I picture tincture of time being poured over us all, like a heavy healing oil, soothing, fragrant. It drips down our hair, it softens our skin, it sinks in where nothing else can reach.
I picture myself leaving it there, to do its work without me, penetrating silently, working unseen.
And I turn on some music, and hum my own harmony.
And wait for healing.