I had an appointment at the oral surgeon on Monday. This is notable because I hate everything that has to do with dentistry. And when the conversation shifts to using lasers in my mouth for a “procedure,” well I suppose you can understand how that could make me a smidge anxious.
So, like the good ex-worrier I am, I’d been low-key dreading this appointment for weeks. I really only engaged with the dread during the moments I’d catch sight of the appointment on my calendar. A massive improvement from the hard core obsessive worrying I used to do, which would’ve led me to believe I was definitely dying (which my dentist had already assured me multiple times I was not. Because of course I asked).
It took me a while circling 1960s office building in Decatur to figure out where in the world the oral surgeon’s office even was. I finally found it on the ground floor of the office parking garage, which was essentially the basement floor of the building. The entire floor simultaneously smelled freshly scrubbed and like ancient cigarette smoke, the kind that seeps into the structure of the building and lingers. It is a smell I associate with clean, lived in spaces from my childhood (the 1980s were a totally different breed, right?). And, bizarrely, I find it comforting. Reassuring.
I made it into the exam room for my consultation, climbed up in the teal pleather mid-century dental chair and endeavored to relax. The chair helped. I’m a sucker for mid-century furniture. Even the dental variety apparently. I was scrolling aimlessly through my phone when the surgeon came in. Not his nurse for a whole lot of preemptive conversation. The surgeon. And he asked me questions about why I was there, how I was feeling about things. He explained the entire procedure, gave me a few clearly laid out options. He told me what he’d tell his sister to do, if she was in the same situation–and made it clear that he’d take better care of his sister than he would of himself, which was why his sister was relevant in this conversation at all. Then he asked me about what I did for a living, about what neighborhood I lived in, if I knew someone he’d known well who has since died rather unexpectedly (I did, by name, and could confirm his friend had been beloved in southeast Atlanta). And then he told me that it had been a pleasure to get to know me and to have time to chat.
When he left, I just kind of sat in that mid-century chair and felt like maybe something miraculous had happened. I’ve never entered a doctor’s office (of any kind) and felt seen as a person first and a patient second. It was stunning. And it was so clear that being a healer (even if it is of mouths) is this man’s calling. He created an energy so calm that even when I think about the actual procedure now, I just kind of shrug & think “It’ll be fine.” It felt like such a blessing. Really. I was so grateful.
I slid off the teal chair and wandered over to look at a framed article on the wall of the exam room. I read the headline. Blinked. Read the headline again.
In 2014, at 55 years old, the same man who’d just been in the room with me who I was still practically levitating with gratitude over, had a massive heart attack. He had to be revived multiple times. It’s likely that he only survived because his office is right next to a hospital.
He was just right here, in front of me. Vibrant and kind. Dad joke funny. But he almost wasn’t.
And what would that mean?
But beyond those rich connections with family and friends that make up so much of what we think about when we consider a life are passing sparks of connection between people that seem almost inconsequential. But those brief, everyday connections are part of what we lamented (even grieved over) during the lockdown days of the pandemic.
Yes, I am a random woman who showed up in this oral surgeon’s exam room on a sunny afternoon 8 years after his life altering heart attack. But, although I’m sure I could’ve located another competent oral surgeon in the metro Atlanta area, I would’ve missed the tremendous blessing of being in the presence of a (calmly reassuring, dad-joke telling) healer, if my life had not intersected with his.
And, really, what is life but little exquisite moments of connection?* Those moments are ultimately what make up our lives. Sometimes our lives overlap–fleetingly—with others in ways we barely notice. But it matters more than we have the capacity to realize, I think.
*This is a recurring theme in The Winners, by Fredrik Backman, which you should absolutely read right now.