Landscapes of Wisdom

Photo by Paul IJsendoorn on

During my college art appreciation classes, I learned about the concept of how art creates space with the use of foreground, middleground and background. This idea came into play about a year ago when someone wisely suggested that I needed to find a space in my psyche for my departed son. The idea alleviated the unbearable pain of out-of-order death, because it made me feel that my son was a PART of the landscape and not DEparted.

That said, for almost 15 months, he is, mostly, in the foreground of a custom-sized sacred space on my life canvas, closest to me, looming larger than anything else.

Anyway, last week, I conversed with a young man inside the waiting room of a dental surgeon’s office. He informed me that it was time for him to have his wisdom teeth extracted.

“Really? I had mine out at 19. How old are you?”

“Twenty eight.”

“Twenty eight!” I exclaimed. “That’s too old to get your wisdom teeth out.”

I don’t know what made me the authority of the wisdom tooth extraction timeline. At that given moment, it was my own, very personal, anything but humble, reality. When I spoke with the man, my sole focus was on me and my one-time 19-year-old pain that I recalled.

The dialogue ended after a dental assistant led me into the other room for my procedure. Suddenly, I felt like I was smacked with the herbal packs that the dentist, who extracted my wisdom teeth so long ago, inserted into my mouth to ease the gum pain.

Wisdom teeth, I suddenly remembered. The thought immediately shifted to a seat in the foreground of my mind.

The last time I visited my son alive in his home state, the trip started with the idea of his scheduling a dentist appointment to remove his wisdom teeth. Petrified of dental procedures, I planned to visit and support him through his ordeal. OMG! I remembered: he ended up canceling the procedure. The 2-D image in the foreground that chewed me up in a 3-D way was my son buried, wisdom teeth intact. Death can paint my mindscape with abstract and random images.  

Settling into the dentist chair, it hit me. If I had spoken to the 28-year-old man and my son was still alive, the exchange of dialogue would have been completely different, far removed from the talk of the appropriate age of wisdom teeth extraction.

“My son’s twenty-eight too!” I would have exclaimed, proudly, to the man in a newfound common space, a foreground of connection. From that point, I would have bored him with all kinds of details about my son.

In reality, I was ripped off of my son’s 27th year and now the sunrise of his 28th. So ripped off, in fact, that his twenty-eight-year old image settled into the background of my psyche. How odd, I thought, his one-time existence was relegated to the background, the plane furthest away from view. What, on the other hand, was in full view, was remembering his full set of wisdom teeth. Either way, I am filled with sadness, shuffling around my son’s memory, a re-imagined shell game in which the ball under the cup gets lost in a confusion of turns.   

In faith matters, I wonder if a space has to be permanent in order for it to be sacred. I believe as a young family, this idea of physical space for spiritual matters was one major reason we as a young family rarely, if ever, missed Sunday church services.

Now, living in this new normal, I understand that sacred space doesn’t have to be defined. Nor does it require a reservation. Sacred space can be spontaneous. Sacred space can also be temporary like the “Grief Forest.” It runs fluid and, depending on the inhabitant, both spiritual and secular and, certainly, personal and created by infinite hues and styles. In fact, it is like a juxtaposition of bright yellow color on a dark background that gives faith a three-dimensional aspect and, if the viewer observes closely enough, he or she will uncover the doorknob that turns, leading into a fourth dimension.

3 thoughts on “Landscapes of Wisdom

  1. The fluidity your describe makes sacred space more accessible – easier to reach with this realization. That doorknob to the forth dimension part is intriguing. When I finished reading this post, I said, “Wow!” out loud.

  2. First, I am so sorry that your son is no longer with you. The pain of such separation I can only imagine. Second, you are so right about the fluidity of sacred spaces. Epiphanies rarely happen in the same location in the same way. I think God likes surprises!

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