I can’t shake the remembrance of my two front teeth falling from my mouth like crushed crackers.
It was nearly a decade ago when I was playing college basketball at a small school you haven’t heard of. We were a good team. My freshman year, we were runner-up to the National Champion. In other words, we were second best in the country.
The following year we weren’t so good. It was also the year I shouldered a number of injuries. One of them was an unintentional full force elbow to the mouth during a practice session on a Tuesday afternoon. It was like my face exploded upon impact. The whole gym went silent. They watched me scream and as I helplessly searched for my teeth on the hardwood floor graffitied with spots of blood.
Inevitably, my time at the oral surgeon’s office increased over the next several weeks. It was terrible. I don’t remember my dentist’s name that I granted with my full trust to operate in my mouth. The Vicodin did this. But I do remember other things.
I remember trying to get as far away from the masked man drilling away in my mouth. But I couldn’t. I was glued to the chair. His mask didn’t protect me from the warm scent of his breath. Even though it wasn’t foul, it made me sick. His eyes were brilliant, the kind of eyes you get when you’ve had just enough wine — glossy, bright, joyful. I was always glad and nervous about that. This place, I thought, “doesn’t even have the decency to put in recess lighting? Even my eyeballs can’t escape the pain? I have to plant my gaze on a ceiling that blasts back at me with a blinding fluorescent glow?”
The damn novocaine turned my whole face into a wet noodle.
I hate choking on my own saliva. That mouth piece that props my chew hole open is a disgusting practice. The sound of that little spit sucker makes my palms sweat until this day. For hours, I would sit in that chair wondering about the stupidity of it all only to be distracted by the taste of a mouth full of nickels.
Time hasn’t washed away these memories. I’d rather run an ultra marathon in timberlands than go to the dentist. But I must go. This I know.
I’m swallowing tiny amounts of coffee as I write this. It’s good coffee. Hot, black, and so thick it could float a tac.
Considering my experience at the dentist with a busted grill, I realized that at times, our freedom is limited. In that chair, there wasn’t much I could do. It felt wildly impractical. I dramatically felt some oppression, and certainly some constraint.
In theory, I was still free. At any time, I could have ripped out the apparatus from my mouth, and walked out of the dentist office looking like a monster and presumably opened myself up to more damage.
But I didn’t. I stayed in the chair. I had to endure this wretchedness with any means if I wanted to heal myself.
This is not my own understanding. Perhaps we are made to know this:
Sometimes the short-term suffering, constraint, or impracticality is the exact thing we need for long term benefit.
This is the healing process for everything. It’s hard, but it’s worth it.
Picking up the pieces of your heart after it’s been cracked wide open. Assembling your self-confidence after the business fails. Filling the void after you lose a family member. The healing process of these things are never linear and are always unworkable.
But in order to get to the other side of hell, we must keep walking.
My trip to the dentist the other week wasn’t as bad as open mouth surgery was years ago — just a normal check up.
But the x-rays reveal that the roots of my two artificial front teeth need tending and my dentist goes from a friendly uncle straight into salesmanship mode. He suggests we perform a transplant.
I ask him “Is it an emergency?”
“No. But you should really consider taking care of it,” he says.
“I’m not ready for that. One day, though, I will be.”
The last sip of my coffee was as good as the first — the evidence of good brew. I walk upstairs to brush my teeth and I taste blood. It looks like that day in the chair is approaching quickly.