I was there for a consultation visit, to meet the staff and decide if I wanted to make this place my home for dental care. I arrived at 1:30 p.m. along with three others. We sat in the waiting room waiting for the staff to return from lunch, and I attempted to scarf up the few minutes of peace in a good book. I found myself staring at the same sentence for the next fifteen minutes as quite the scene developed around me.
A gentleman in his fifties had arrived escorting a smartly dressed elderly woman on his arm. He began to fuss over her.
“I see you put on your royal attire today. Purple is the color of royalty, you know. Your purple blouse is lovely.”
She smiled but didn’t say anything in return. He moved a piece of hair out of her face. “There, there, now you just look so great today!”
With every phrase and movement he demonstrated upmost respect and care, with a slightly light-hearted flair. She then began to question him as to why they were there.
“What do they do to you at this place?”
“This is the dentist office. They clean your teeth,” he replied.
“My teeth?” She looked bewildered at the thought that someone would need to clean her teeth.
Yes, they clean your teeth and take good care of your pretty smile here.”
She still must have looked unsure (I was still staring at my one sentence) because he continued to re-assure her, “These are my friends. I trust them. They’ll take good care of you here.”
That seemed to satisfy her and she settled down in her chair comfortably.
I wondered how he knew her – if he was a friend just running her on her errands, or if he was a family member assisting in her care. The ease of their relationship showed that even with her failing memory, she knew enough about him to know she could trust him. It was a scene that become more beautiful in the coming moments.
A young man walked in, and the gentleman in his fifties jumped to his feet, recognizing a friend. He then introduced the elderly woman as his mother-in-law. My heart melted. The woman then informed the young man that her son-in-law had just been entertaining them at home with all his funny stories. The son-in-law teasingly replied, “Now, mother, what happens at home must stay at home!”
I assumed that he and his wife took full care of their mother and that they did it with love and respect. Not an ounce in his being displayed a hint of frustration, exhaustion or burden. Caring for this woman who had raised his wife was his pleasure. An outing with her to the dentist was and adventure to be enjoyed. I could only imagine how well he treated his wife is this was how he treated her mother.
My glimpse of human beauty was further opened when a boisterous man in his seventies then joined our cast in the waiting room. He walked in wearing a light purple sport coat over a high-collared white dress shirt with a purple rhinestone fastening the neck closed. Navy dress slacks completed his spring ensemble. His personality was as colorful as his coat. He greeted the room with a hearty “Afternoon everyone!” I apparently was so engrossed in pretending to read that same sentence, that I forgot to return his greeting. Soon, right behind my ear I heard, “You there young lady in the chair.”
Since I was the only “young” lady in the room I knew I’d been had. I raised my head and eyebrows and looked at him with wide yes. He read my expression and answered, “Yes, you! You didn’t reply!”
“Oh! Um, yes sir! Sorry! Good afternoon to you!”
“There, that’s much better.”
Satisfied, he shuffled on to work his way around the room. Something about his mannerism and demeanor made me think he was a preacher. Not a pastor. There is a difference. I somehow knew that if he was a man of the cloth, he was “Reverend Last Name,” and not “Pastor First Name.” I say that with great respect. I grew up under a Reverend Last Name. This man seemed to fit the bill.
The staff returned from their lunch and the Reverend continued his hearty hellos. They all expressed pleasure to see him again. The receptionist told him he was “as pretty as an easter egg” in his purple coat. He got quite the pleasure out of the compliment.
Soon my name was called, and I was sad to exit the show stage left. I was still processing the events of the past few minutes when I sat down in the office to discuss my dental history. As if knowing it was impossible to ignore, the receptionist began to give me some history on the Reverend.
“That dear gentleman is a preacher.” (I knew it, she used the word preacher!) “He’s had a hard life, but he has handled it so well. He never has an appointment. He just shows up, and we always figure out a way to work him in.” She said the whole thing with a genuine smile and without the slightest hint of annoyance. She was sincerely happy to see him show up again.
Before she said another word, or anyone took a look at my teeth, or explained their high tech procedures, before they offered me a warm neck wrap or lemon-scented towel to help me relax, before I learned the dentist was a fellow Ohioan or received a hand-writen follow-up note from the tech, I had made up my mind. This would be my dental home.
Before I had analyzed their practice of dentistry, I had seen how they treat their patients – the ones who throw a wrench in the schedule, the ones who to some might be seen as an obnoxious intrusion, who some might remind once again that you need to have an appointment first. They saw him as a human, with a history and a heart. They saw him not just with dental needs, but with personal needs as well. This was the kind of office that a son-in-law would trust with his failing mother-in-law, that he could assure her even when she didn’t understand, that she could trust these people, because he trusted them.
In fifteen minutes, in the most unlikely of places, I’d seen a glimpse of heaven – people treating each other not as burdens they carried around, but as people to love and care for, as people made in the image of God with great worth and value – even when they can’t remember what a dentist does, or step outside the social norms.
Whether this case of characters knew it or not, they displayed the aspects of humility that Paul encourages those who follow Jesus to display:
“Do nothing out of selfishness or vain conceit, but in humility, consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look out only to your own interest, but also to the interests of others.” Philippians 2:3-4
That’s a community I want to be part of whenever I can – even if it’s only twice a year when I get my teeth cleaned.