Today was a special day. In the middle of my troubled life, in the heart of the coldest winter days here, someone gave me an unexpected gift of grace. It happened at the dentist’s office, of all places.
It has been a good long while since I was last to a dentist to have them cleaned and examined. Finally today was my chance. I arrived there a little cold but fresh from a brisk minus-10degrees-celsius walk through town. A year ago I would have had to speak English with them, but by now I have mastered enough basic Danish to be able to speak with the receptionist in her native tongue. I was ushered in to the waiting chair by the bright-eyed young lady hygienist to begin the work. She was very gentle as she expertly prodded and poked at my teeth and gums to see what was what, took a couple of quick x-rays with the latest in dental technology (gone are the olden days of having to wear a lead vest and stand before the x-ray machine, fortunately), then cleaned my teeth carefully and gently (which my sensitive gums were quite happy about), and finally called in the dentist to have a look.
About half my life ago, I had two semi-caps placed on my second-to-front teeth (what is the technical term for those, I wonder?) and over the years and several million cups of tea and coffee later, they were looking quite the worse for wear. Not only that, but the backs of them felt quite rough and I had recently become afraid that maybe they were wearing out and would need to be replaced, a costly proposition which I was dreading having to deal with. Even though health care is practically free for the citizens and residents of Denmark, thanks to their welfare system which is still hanging on by a thread or two, dental care is not free, and therefore can be very costly to have one’s teeth repaired. Back to the story. The dentist, a lovely woman by the name of Elisabeth, saw my capped teeth, quickly assessed the situation, and spontaneously offered to polish them down and fix them up so they would look and feel a whole lot better than they have been, if I had a little extra time? If my mouth hadn’t already been open while she was inspecting it, it surely would have dropped open in disbelief. Did I have extra time? You Bet, I said, hoping the eagerness wasn’t too apparent in my voice. Never before in all my years of seeing god-knows-how-many dentists in how many cities and states in the US, had any dentist ever offered to do something above and beyond the perfunctory examination and necessary fillings. EVER. Yet here today in Silkeborg, Denmark, was a woman dentist (which in itself impressive, coming from the extremely male-dominated dentist profession in my homeland), and a perceptive, bright, and extremely kind-hearted and generous one at that. Three quarters of an hour later, a miracle occurred in my mouth: a smile I could finally be proud of, those ugly caps now polished down, made smooth and fitting with the other teeth in my mouth perfectly. It has taken over twenty years and a change of continent, but it finally happened today: Dental Grace. Hallelujah, Praise Jah, Hosannah in the Highest! The dentist herself was pleased and seemed happy to help this poor American woman have a prettier smile. She and her assistant (another very nice woman who was happy to keep sucking the water out of my mouth as the dentist polished away) chatted in Danish while they worked, and it seemed that they were both rather enjoying the whole thing in a way I have never, ever seen a dentist act before.
When she was finished, and I was busy admiring my new smile in the mirror, I looked up to thank her. She met my glance and said with a broad smile, ‘Welcome to Denmark!’ We both laughed, and I stood up and gave her a hug. Imagine that, hugging your dentist to say thanks! Amazing, really, amazing grace given through the dentist to me today. And just when I had been contemplating several things, none of them very nice, after a weekend full of suffering and being deep in the hole of darkness again. Then, out of nowhere, a beautiful gift was showered upon me. Tonight, as I write this while running my tongue again and again over my new, smooth and pearly teeth, I am utterly grateful.