Once upon a time, my good dentist referred me to a periodontist. I’ve had gum problems since I was 15, and once again, some repair was in order. My dentist warned me that if I didn’t have a bone graft, I would suffer bone loss. Actually, I would suffer additional bone loss—damage had already been done. He told me that I might even lose a tooth or two. I was rattled; I did go to the periodontist. But I felt no pain; I disliked the place; I felt hustled, and the cost, even with insurance, was terribly high. I decided to wait. I forgot about it. I let life-as-usual hold me under its powerful spell.
A year went by. I was back at the dentist. He repeated his warnings. He scolded me. He sent me to another periodontist. I liked this place a bit more. I felt more determined. I had new insurance. I was ready. But they weren’t. I had to wait for an estimate, an approval, notification, an open time slot. More months went by. I ignored the bleeding, the sensitivity. My life is full and busy and deadline-driven, and I foolishly spent my bone and tissue capital like a binging gambler, like a homeowner who accepted a mortgage she could never manage, like a financial manager buying and selling millions of these sure-to-fail loans, speculating and gambling with “toxic assets.” I was as risk-inviting, irresponsible, oblivious, and hubristic as a Wall Street day trader. By the time I opened my mouth, ready for a bone graft, it was too late. The tooth had to come out.
Last night I dreamt that the ceiling in this room, the back bedroom in a small brick house that I use as an office, reading and writing room, favorite place to hang out, was separating from the walls. Its fall was inevitable. I dashed in and out, trying to decide what to rescue. My computer. My purse. Photographs. Paintings. Signed books. I did not want to get hurt, but I couldn’t bear the thought of losing what I think of as my life. We’d waited too long. We knew the house needed work; we procrastinated.
I’ve been indignant, outraged, and disgusted over the lack of foresight and regulation, the orgy of greed and folly that has led us to financial crisis. But as I sit here, icing my swollen face, tonguing the gap in my mouth, my deficit, my foreclosure, I know that we are all to blame. That we are all creatures of habit, that we are all stubbornly optimistic and childishly reluctant to face facts and take painful action. So now we will all suffer loss, regret, and fear. We will have to make sacrifices, and maybe we will learn from our mistakes. At least for a little while.