Saturday, April 21, 2012

Fellowship of the Tooth

Well, it finally happened, I went under the knife. Actually, it was a drill accompanied by what my dentist affectionately called, "cow forceps." I could have saved the tooth had I submitted to a root canal late last year, but I procrastinated until it was too late.
  • Lesson #1: Fear only makes things worse.
  • Lesson #2: Get the root canal right away.
  • Lesson # 3 Tears are better than laughter.

Crying is better than laughing.
It blotches the face but it scours the heart.
~Ecclesiastes 7:3

Another way of saying this, is that the hard times are better tutors than are the easy, so-called good times. Suffering reveals more about what truly matters than anything else. That's the stuff of proverbs, and short stories and novels, exercise physiology and the actual center piece of some religious traditions such as Catholicism. More importantly, I would argue, it's the reality of real life.
I have never been a patient in a hospital, and I don't claim to have had much experience with pain, but I think our preacher here is right. When the dentist asked me how I was doing I said, "I'd rather be in the Caribbean." Previously, I had asked friends who'd navigated the procedure to share with me what I might expect.

"Oh, yeah, I remember that!"

"The pressure, the suction, the drilling; overwhelming."

"No pain, until...afterwards."

I kind of wished they'd have just lied about it or at least sugarcoated it. I had a vasectomy a few years back and conducted a similar survey which yielded such varied results as, "Didn't change a thing" and, "Changed everything... for the better!" To finally, "Changed everything for the worse." Yikes! In the future I think I'll stop all the pre-surgical surveying.
My tooth extraction took the entire allotted time (not a good thing) but I stayed in the chair and thankfully, didn't need to use my, "Please stop NOW!" hand. I kept waiting to hear the dentist say,"There it is" or "Almost there" but no such comfort was to be had. Rather, I heard, "It sure is decayed" and "Having to take it out in pieces." (Oh- is that what all the crunching, snapping, broken glass sound is about?) Eventually, after a kind of sumo wrestling with my jaw, it was over. I gave a thumbs up and said a sincere, "Good work" mindful that such affirmations are rare in dental offices.

There was one, bright, interesting moment, which is the reason why I am telling you this story. While alone and waiting for the novocaine to kick in, I said out loud to my deceased daughter, Esther, "Star, here I am. Are you there?" And suddenly, unobtrusively, it was as if she was there, along with many others, as a kind of gentle and calm cheer leading squad. They couldn't sit in my place now, only I could do that; but each had once been in a similar space. I relaxed. I knew I would be okay. Yes, I know my devotional literature and all about "visitations" during trying times, and yes, I admit to being bent toward the mystical, but there it is. Anyway, language has a hard enough time trying to describe the natural sciences, let alone such mysteries as a communion of suffering, or fellowship of the tooth.

I do not seek pain nor do I recommend it. However, if you have not suffered, get ready, your time will come. It's okay to be a little afraid, but eventually you need to be brave and face it, whatever it is, however big or small, working all the while to be as courageous as possible. The needle goes in the screamer as well as the stoic, and life's cow-forceps, to paraphrase Shakespeare, can make cowards of us all.

The Bard also said:

I pray thee peace, I will be flesh and blood;
For there was never yet philosopher
That could endure the toothache patiently,
However they have writ the style of gods,
And made a push at chance and sufferance

So, tears are to be expected, even for the gods, and often necessary, especially for us.  And we are not alone.

"So then let’s also run the race that is laid out in front of us, since we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us." ~Hebrews 12:1

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