Last week, I had my wisdom tooth removed. I’m on vacation and my Greek dentist promised it would be an easy process. Maybe five minutes. When it was done, he postulated that I would be truly wise. Maybe this quick operation would unlock the ancient vestigial intelligence contained in my mouth and I would spout prophesy like the Oracle of Delphi.
The procedure proved arduous. What was supposed to be a five-minute extraction took 1½ hours because my tooth’s roots were attached firmly to bone. The dentist told me it was one of his toughest procedures ever. If wisdom was gained, it was through skillful, focused force resulting in some bloodshed, some stiches, a packet of European pain killers, and a promise of quick healing.
It just so happened that my tooth was surgically removed just as the Supreme Court ruled
5-4 in favor of gay marriage. It was also a week when Confederate flags were finally deemed inappropriate by many. And a month when our country was arguing Pope Francis’ latest statements about climate change.
In Greece, Prime Minister Tsipras announced a referendum to decide the future of his country’s participation in the Euro.
A wisdom tooth in a teenager comes out relatively easily. The roots have not taken hold. It proves much more difficult for someone firmly established in middle age, and, if I had waited and done nothing, in old age my tooth would have completely deteriorated and my whole mouth would have been endangered.
Abolishing decaying and rotting behaviors is not easy. Liberation is not the work of the faint of heart. It took years of pressure from gay activists to get the Supreme Court to grant the right to marry. The Confederate flag was first adopted more than 150 years ago and it took the untimely death of nine parishioners at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church to get people talking about pulling it from masts and statehouses across the South. Artists and prophets have been warning that we’ve been ruining the environment with the intention of economic advantage for centuries now.
In the past several weeks, our country gained a little bit of wisdom. We’re still young. Perhaps we can arrest contentious behavior without violence and revolution.
The Greeks, who go to the polls today, may have a more difficult time. After all, they’ve been “civilized” a lot longer. The pain of their decision will have repercussions for the world’s political and economic order.
At home, we’ve still got guns to control, prisons to reform, and many people to liberate. Transgender rights now take the headlines from gay marriage. As witnessed from other recent and more conservative Supreme Court decisions, we still have hard work to do to dismantle the hold that racism has over our nation, and gain true redemption by acknowledging the need to reverse the degradation of our planet.
We still may be able to save it and become, in Langston Hughes words, “Really wise.”