all of the selves we Have ever been
Some might think I learned about breath work and meditation in graduate school on my way to becoming a mental health therapist, but that is not so.
I invented those calming techniques in a dentist’s chair when I was eight years old and having a tooth drilled without benefit of Novocain. I am not sure if filling teeth sans Novocain was a practice typical of the times or if our family dentist just enjoyed inflicting pain on children. To further confuse my young mind, I was growing up in the Catholic Church where pain and suffering could put a girl on the path to sainthood, and so I assumed I was to “offer it up,” though it seemed like an unnecessary dose of redemption for a girl barely past her First Communion.
But yesterday I went to the dentist to have a crown placed on a tooth that recently had a root canal, and I abandoned the fold for a new religion. I suspect my current dentist may be the Buddha.
So calm and spirit-filled is my dentist that he might as well enter the treatment room on a cloud. No matter the time between visits, he remembers the names of each of my grown children and accurately recalls that it has been nine years since he last saw my daughter who now lives in another town.
When this doctor asks how I am and what my problems might be, he is fully present and listens attentively, a better therapist than me. Throughout a procedure, he repeatedly checks on my comfort. Nowhere else in the world do I feel as seen and heard as I do in his office. My dentist works patiently and attentively sculpting my new tooth for a perfect fit. Like Michelangelo, his artistry inspires a sense of awe.
Relaxing into his quiet confidence and competence, I meditate on a silent rendition of the Broadway tune “Nothing’s gonna harm you, not while I’m around.” Were my heart to stop beating or my head to explode, I imagine that my dentist would simply place his skilled, gentle hands upon the broken parts and magically put them all back together again with his touch. Unshaken, he would quickly get back to placing my crown.
While I may feel like the only person in the universe when I am seated in my dentist’s chair that scenario is far from the truth. He is a very busy man and somehow stays on schedule with the many other patients filling chairs in other treatment rooms. Yet, he never appears rushed and never makes me feel that I am wasting his time or that I need to hurry it up. With three office locations and a young family, my dentist still finds time to travel the world bringing smiles to children who have little to smile about—an international tooth fairy of sorts.
When I was a small child, I believed in the tooth fairy as much as I believed in God and the saints. I imagined a benevolent, magical being, an angel-like specter who, for some strange reason, loved gathering teeth. She loved it so much she paid me for mine. For me, lost teeth were the evidence that I was growing up. Perhaps the tooth fairy presented this evidence to some heavenly court. Maybe that is how God keeps track of his children.
I believe in a new tooth fairy now, a more age-appropriate one. And even if those permanent teeth I grew as a child test the definition of permanent, there is a new magical character who takes away my broken and aching teeth. He does it while I am awake, and I leave him the cash. There has been some price inflation since I was a kid, but this tooth fairy is so wonderful that I don’t mind. I hope that the exchange helps to pay for the smiles my Buddha-dentist-tooth-fairy brings to poor, hurting children in far-away places. Maybe that, in some way, makes me part of the magic, too, a form of redemption I can buy into.
Kahlil Gibran wrote that “work is love made visible.” He must have known my dentist.
I am not so poetic. All I can say is “Back at you, Doc!”