Your beau­ti­ful smile is worth a lit­tle trou­ble

Chicago Sun-Times (Sunday) - - OPINION - JOHN W. FOUN­TAIN au­[email protected]­wfoun­ | @John­WFoun­tain

This col­umn is the sec­ond of two ti­tled: “Life lessons from my or­tho­don­tists”

Iar­rived with my crooked smile at the cozy blue-gray store­front on South 87th Street known as Braces By Barnes, nearly three years ago. I al­ways tap the first let­ter of my last name on the com­puter screen, then my birth date.

Soon a fe­male tech­ni­cian, wear­ing a floral smock, beck­ons me to a room with den­tal chairs, where Dr. Eric M. Barnes, a slightly mus­ta­chioed brother, runs his prac­tice with his daugh­ter Dr. Ashley Barnes.

It feels like fam­ily here. R&B and soul mu­sic flow, set­ting my mind and soul at ease.

I be­gan my monthly ap­point­ments with the Doc­tors Barnes in May 2016 to heal my crooked smile. The process had be­gun months ear­lier at the steady hands of a den­tal sur­geon. My or­tho­don­tists be­gan with a se­ries of X-rays, the es­ti­mated costs and as­sur­ances that they could fix my teeth.

It was the hope I needed. For by then, I had be­come nearly re­signed to los­ing my front left tooth and re­plac­ing it with an im­plant.

The thought alone left me wounded — in the way one feels when com­ing face-to-face with your own mor­tal­ity when sud­denly it col­lides with time, re­al­ity and life’s in­evitable losses for which there are no more medic­i­nal, sur­gi­cal or prayed for reme­dies.

Ad­mit­tedly, a tooth is not an arm. Not a leg. Not an eye, not a kid­ney. Not a son or a daugh­ter or some other loved one.

In the scheme of things that can go hor­ri­bly wrong in this Amer­i­can life, los­ing a tooth may not be among the most mon­u­men­tal.

But this much I know: Af­ter we buried Mama, I was bro­ken — vis­i­bly whole, but in­ter­nally shattered in ways that mostly went un­spo­ken. Scarred, bit­ter and an­gry. So an­gry.

At death. At God. At Alzheimer’s. At the in­cal­cu­la­ble si­phon­ing of strength that af­flicts those who care for loved ones through sick­ness and dis­ease unto death. I know now that so much of me was ir­re­triev­ably lost.

At times, I looked in the mirror and did not see me. At times, hon­estly, I did not care whether I lived or died.

My left tooth’s north­east­erly mi­gra­tion left me with a gap. Made me feel ashamed. Made me want to stop smil­ing al­to­gether. I started put­ting my hand up sub­con­sciously to hide it and was re­solved to let­ting it go.

But deep in my soul, I could hear Mama’s com­fort­ing voice: “Son, smile again . ... You took care of me. I want you to smile again.”


In be­tween ap­point­ments for tight­en­ing and ad­just­ments, be­tween pain and the prob­ing of my teeth, in be­tween time and space, be­tween ca­sual con­ver­sa­tions with God and my or­tho­don­tists, and the grad­ual heal­ing of my heart and soul, I found my­self smil­ing more and more through the wires. I found lessons on my jour­ney back:

Fol­low doc­tor’s or­ders. You can’t al­ways fix it your­self; some­times you need a spe­cial­ist.

The road to heal­ing may be paved with pain. Be en­cour­aged; no pain lasts for­ever.

Maybe you can’t fix it ex­actly like it was, but maybe it can be even bet­ter.

You may be aware of one is­sue but dis­cover there are sev­eral oth­ers that are re­lated. You can’t fix in a hurry what may have taken years to be­come dis­placed.

Don’t be dis­cour­aged by the process; it takes the process to make you.

Even when you’re done, you may need a per­ma­nent re­tainer.

Never give up. Dream. Live.

These are the lessons learned. Soul lessons I will cher­ish like the re­tain­ers for my smile mended by the braces re­moved a week af­ter Christ­mas, restor­ing the gift — and joy — of my two front teeth.

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