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February 15, 2012

two front teeth

You'll be hard pressed to find a picture of me with a hearty laugh or toothy grin.

I was in the 4th or 5th grade when the dentist sent me to an orthodontist. The gap between my two front teeth had been obvious for years and did not appear to be changing. The orthodontist took one glance and confirmed that I would need a row of braces across the top for a complete mid-line shift.

This was terrible news. I would be teased by other kids. Adults would constantly ask me about braces. Far worse than the impending negative attention was the plain evidence that I was imperfect and therefore probably a piece of garbage.

I whined until my parents told the orthodontist that we would deal with it later. I thought that maybe there was a chance all those things weren't true after all.

I prayed sincere, childish, bargainer prayers. I pushed those teeth toward each other with my left thumb and index finger so often that it became an unconscious habit, like chewing fingernails. The movement feels familiar to this day.

The outcome, after six or eight years, was a perfectly straight row of top teeth. Did the pushing help? Probably not at all. The prayers? I seriously doubt it. But for reasons that likely have more to do with ossification of facial bones than miracles, I entered into adulthood with no braces and no gap.

And so it was all good. Until the day I cut my arm on broken glass while working in Rolling Rock Brewery. When I fainted, those teeth apparently took the entire impact of my upper body on the cement floor. 

The caps that were placed over my teeth at the age of twenty are still off color and a size too buckey. Cameras still cause me a subconscious shift, bringing out my picture smile which will deprive my kids and grand kids (and myself) of what I really looked like.

There's something sinister behind self absorption. We wear our points of fear and insecurity like giant pimples, focusing on them, prodding, making them worse. While nobody else gives a damn, we render ourselves incapable of extending the grace and gentleness and encouragement that breaks the same twisted spiral in others.

I'm pretty sure my teeth won't be changing anytime soon. And thank goodness, because the prodding and praying that I need to be doing lies much deeper. I won't say God bashed my face off the ground to teach me some lessons. But I think he hears those kind of prayers.

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