“You’re never going to believe this,” I tell my friend over the phone. “Here all this time, I’ve been looking in the churches for community, but apparently I need to be attending AA meetings. My people are the recovering addicts.”
She laughed, but I was serious.
I stumbled onto this revelation at the dentist office on a sunny Saturday morning. I was there as a beneficiary of someone else’s goodwill. There aren’t words to describe my thankfulness for this program. When I entered the office, I was uncertain whether the other people there were program participants or regular customers.
So I took my seat, ready to avoid eye contact by reading. Less than five minutes, I learn the answer to my question, when a girl emerges from the back.
A tribe surrounds her. Several girls find their feet and move towards her. “What did they do?” “Did it hurt?”
Using her index fingers, the girl widens her mouth, allowing everyone a peek inside. She then proceeds to talk about the work that just happened on her mouth. I watch fascinated. Unless you’re reading these posts, you would never know I had dental issues. I would never dream of sharing something that embarrasses me.
Yet among these girls, words of vulnerability fall carelessly among the group. They speak of lost teeth, of bridges, of what will never again be whole again.
Unless you’ve walked this path, you might not realize just how much your smile is part of your soul. For a woman especially. When our smile is marred, our sense of worth and sense of beauty is also marred.
I watch transfixed as the group rallies around each girl. These women, I learn, are part of a drug recovery program. They are so real, it amazed me. When someone cries, because she’s learned she’s going to lose her teeth, they swallowed back tears as they gave hugs and offered comfort. When someone received a crown, they all shared her joy and wanted to see inside her new mouth for themselves.
I’m fascinated, and I’m also hungry. Desperately so.
I watch over and over as these women open up to each other on levels that penetrate through even my defenses. At first, I’m stunned that someone would show their dental work to everyone in the waiting room. But gradually I find myself wanting to hear each girl’s story, too.
“How did you find out about Project Smiles?” One girl in her twenties turns towards me.
Five or six women lean forward to hear my answer. And just like that, they’ve included me, and it’s sincere.
My words don’t catch on my tongue—because I’m not standing there with a deep need screaming in my soul, talking to people with a false interest. I’ve seen enough insincerity not to recognize that theirs is genuine.
Furthermore, there’s no need for me, the outsider, to be vulnerable first. I’ve walked into a group that is not wearing masks. They acknowledge they are broken, hurting people. I suddenly find words easy. I’m struck by how refreshing it feels.
Sometimes we can’t identify the deepest needs of our soul.
When the dentist fits my new piece in my mouth, he asks me how it feels. I reply, “Good, I think.” He then looks up and instructs his students, saying, “Don’t just take a patient’s word, always check. Notice the uncertainty. They may no longer know what normal feels like.”
How incredibly true. Thank goodness the Shepherd of our soul also assesses His sheep in such a manner.
Sometimes you have to experience the cure in order to recognize the injury.
I’ve grown used to a society that doesn’t look too hard into your life, so long as you don’t look too hard into theirs.
When I emerge from the back, I show the girls what’s been done to my mouth. And it’s not strange or uncomfortable. It’s my first act of community.
I leave the dentist’s office that day with two incredible blessings. A dental problem fixed and a wound of the soul highlighted.
I also leave the church I’ve been attending, in search for a new one.
I’m not sure anyone noticed.