Monday, April 6, 2009

The solace of a stranger

Let me begin by telling you that I’m not a big weeper, nor a terribly dramatic person—at least I don’t think so, and I’ve been told by many that I am not.

For obvious looming-healthcare-timeline reasons, the weeks surrounding Todd’s layoff have been, and continue to be, rife with appointments: check-ups, dental cleanings, routine tests, etc. This morning was a bit more challenging than most because it began with a well-child visit for my son—who needed no fewer than five immunizations. That’s right, five. Ouchie.

The kid and I met with the doctor first, and since he’s a great fellow whom we know from church, we ended up talking about the upsetting subject of life and its current challenges,. And then, to further push me over the brink of emotionality, we suffered through the horrific occasion of multiple shots in my son’s arms, me blinking back my own tears as his ran freely (although, truly, he was very brave). And then, several cool band-aids and stickers later, we emerged from the doc’s office, so I could hurry home, leave my red-eyed boy with Daddy, and depart quickly for my dentist appointment. Oh, joy.

(My dentist and all his assistants are lovely people, gentle, friendly, never rough or insensitive to the patient’s discomfort. And I appreciate that, because I don’t know anyone whose pulse doesn’t quicken at least slightly when he sits down in the magic rising chair and entrusts his mouth to someone else. It’s unnerving. And I’m no cryer, but I am a bit of a pansy about the dentist.)

So, on that roller-coaster morning, I was already a tad shaky as I sat down in the big reclining seat, and the poor well-intentioned hygienist asked me how things were going. In retrospect, I am increasingly certain she was asking about the state of my teeth, not my life. And yet—she got the lowdown on my life right now. And she was the picture of concern and kindness. She didn’t assume any overly involved tones, or pry, or ask hot-button questions that would set me off. But she addressed what I had shared; she spoke honestly and with sincerity. Mostly, she just listened and cared. Or convincingly gave the impression that she did. And as we wrapped up the visit, she looked me in the eye, encouraged me, and wished me well. And I have to tell you, not with pride, that my eyes might have welled up a tiny bit and I had to fight the urge to hug her. A woman whom I do not know, an unfamiliar person who has been unfortunate enough to spend time picking and polishing my teeth, whose name I am still not certain I know even though she’s worked on my mouth twice now. I wanted to embrace her.

What is it about near strangers that elicit our deepest reactions sometimes? Do we feel secure, knowing we won’t face them every day? Is it a safe confessional because these people do not depend on us at all and we need not pretend bravery or optimism before them? Is this part of that anonymous appeal that the internet has perfected in so many guises of social networking?

Whatever the reason, I am really grateful for this woman. I am sending her a thank-you note, for doing more than her job—for listening and responding to the human frailty that was displayed before her. And once that little note is sent? (I am happy to report that I already wrote it.) Once that note is on its merry way, I have one more responsibility: to pay it forward by being that caring person to another needy soul on the journey.

Upholding each other is the only way we’ll all make it through these days. Besides, isn’t that a great way to spend Holy Week? There are so many different acts of sacrifice we can make for each other.

I am wishing you a sweet dental hygienist just when you need it most.


Facie said...

This reminds me of a commercial for some insurance company. There might actually be two commercials. And those things DO make me cry.

Glad this happened to you. It inspired me to write a thank you note to the office at Jordan's school, for their being understanding when I had to pull Jordan out of extended care after I was laid off.

They did not make me pay for the entire month (as stated in the handbook) when I removed her after two weeks. Plus they also charged me the lowest hourly rate even though J was not there enough hours for her to earn that rate (normally she is).


Mel said...

it's so nice to be pleasantly surprised by people, isn't it? : )

Michelle said...

I thought I was the only one that this had happened to! Normally I'm pretty reticient about sharing what's going on but on occasion when I'm carrying too much - too many stressors all at once -- I've been known to dump it all out on some poor unsuspecting stranger. I did that one time to someone who goes to my church and now I'm tempted to hide whenever I see her. :-) I know she thinks I'm some kind of nuts.

Mel said...

Michelle, you are definitely not alone in this! And most definitely not nuts. I think the unload-on-strangers situation is especially true for people who try to be the strong, somewhat silent type and don't wish to bother or burden anyone else... which is impossible in a community of hurting human beings! ; )