I went to the dentist today. It's been a while. It's not that I've been putting it off, exactly, it's just that I live a very busy life and there are many many things to do, and dentists are only one of them. Sometimes, however, your husband gets fed up and makes an appointment for you, and then you're stuck.
"Tabubilgirl!" My dentist cried. "Long time no see! It's been months! You cancelled an appointment for a cough and you never came back. I trust that nasty thing has cleared up by now?"
He bowed me with rather more than the necessary gravity into the chair and clipped a little paper bib around my neck.
"Are you ready?"
"You are sure? Absolutely sure? You have your music? Andrew Lloyd Webber is all ready to go?"
I burst into tears.
"I forgot!" I wailed. "I left my player on the dining table and I didn't notice until I was already on the bus and I had somewhere else go before I came here and I just don't know how I'm going to do this without my happy music!"
My dentist is a very nice man. He dabbed at my tears with my little paper bib and waited until I stopped crying.
"Oh Tabubilgirl." He said. He shook his head and smiled. "Do you remember the first time you saw me? I wrote a note in your file. 'Tiene mucho miedo.' She is very afraid."
"That's all you wrote?" I sniffed. "I'd have said a lot more than that."
He smiled again - he has a very gentle smile - and patted my hand.
"I am very careful with your fear. We will only do x-rays today. And possibly we will do impressions. For a guard against tooth grinding - there must be a lot of stress built up in that little mouth of yours, eh?"
(Presumably, my dentist saves his smirking for when he pulls up his dental mask.)
We settled for x-rays. When the films were done, he let me up to stretch. He stretched as well, and smiled his lovely smile again.
"I have the most wonderful new app on my phone, Tabubilgirl! I was playing with it just before you arrived. I turned on the radio and held up my phone to the speaker and the app listened to the music, and fter only five seconds - five seconds, Tabubilgirl - it told me the name of the song! And the name of the composer! Even which orchestra did the recording!"
"Really?" I was intrigued. "I have an app like that, but It doesn't know classical from a hole in the ground. It only does popular music. I do get the lyrics-"
"Yeah - they run on the screen in real time, while the song's playing-"
My dentist clapped his hands. "Come into my office!" He said. "You must show me. Lyrics! How marvelous!"
In his office across the hall, soft music floated across the carpet and around his heavy wooden desk. He pulled his phone from his pocket and held it up against the speaker of a stereo and pressed the screen -
"No time! Beethoven! The seventh symphony. Performed by the Vienna Philharmonic. Can you believe it? Performed by the Vienna Philharmonic! It's incredible- it knows!
Tabubilgirl, my wife is in California right now, visiting her mother. Yesterday, while I was driving home, I called her telephone from my car. I said to her 'Are you at home? Turn on your computer' and she did and she asked me what the weather was like and I turned my phone around and held it up to the window of the car and I said 'See for yourself!' It's the future, Tabubilgirl! And we're living in it!"
"I remember" I said " the very first telex I ever saw. You remember telex? They used it before the fax?"
"In the mid-eighties we were living in Papua New Guinea, in a little town in the middle of the jungle. My dad was doing a lot of traveling - he'd be away for weeks sometimes, and this was the eighties - we didn't even have affordable long distance telephone! I remember that one day the secretary in Dad's office called and told us to come down to the office. She wouldn't say why, just told us to come. When we arrived, she held out a blue sheet of paper. My dad had written a letter - just a few lines, and sent it through by this brand new machine.
I remember that my mother snatched that piece of paper right out of the secretary's hand - she held it so hard that she trembled. I remember that she cried. It was my dad's own handwriting - his own hand- written that same day in some place so far away it might have been on another world. My little sister and I crowded around her and we saw her tears and we reached out to touch the paper with something like awe. It was magic. A new sort of miracle.
And today, only twenty years later, I can open a video window and watch my sister-in-law's new baby cry and smack her baby lips - in real time, from the other side of planet. And you can talk to your wife in California from your moving car - in video-"
He nodded again, and smiled, and nodded, and smiled and held up his phone against the stereo -
It's these little things that make the wonder. Digital music - sound spun out of numbers, for your ears only. X-ray photographs of your insides, on demand, no waiting.
A machine that holds your memories and do the listening for you and read out the lyrics, in real time in case you don't remember or never knew- A weather check from a world away, a baby's smile, brought into your home -