This is not a paean to my dentist, just an acknowledgment of how privileged it is to have a dentist and the money to pay for him. My teeth hurt a little. I had to have a crown re-cemented. And then he takes that sharp little tool to pick off any extraneous bits of glue – and that means digging in and around the gums a bit. But I have a tooth there where I used to have a broken molar.
I have known what it is to be in crippling tooth pain. And though the memory of that has long faded, I still treasure the privilege of having root canals and crowns rather than chronic pain.
I treasure my morning shower, too. Hot, clean water delivered to me on demand. Electric lights so I can read in the evening – or power to heat water for tea or listen to music or check my email or watch a movie or a ball game. A car and smooth roads to travel the 100 miles to join my mother for dinner in a mere two hours – and the privilege of driving across one of the world’s most beautiful bridges. Fresh food without the sweat of planting and harvesting – or the fears and tears of a lost crop. I have never had to rock my children to sleep without adequate food.
I have a bed. I have known many who didn’t. And there are no bed bugs. I have grumbled on occasion about not having a washing machine, but I have access to a Laundromat. I do not have to haul water or pound my clothes on rocks. I can read books on my phone while I wait. Or write reflections on my laptop. In the history of human existence on this planet, I am wealthy beyond belief.
I have laid one daughter in the grave. And my brother, too, when he was but 22. There have been pains and sorrows along the way. But I am still amazed at my privilege. I read of the horrors of war, famine and plague in the scriptures. Joel’s vivid account of a devouring army of locusts. The cry of Lamentations from the siege of war, “Look, O Lord, and consider! To whom have you done this? Should women eat their offspring, the children they have borne?” (Lamentations 2:20) The command of pharaoh to the midwives to strangle the male newborns of the children of Israel. The rape and dismemberment of the unnamed concubine at Gibeah. The corruption of Sodom. Lot’s daughters who see no hope but in incest.
Around us in the contemporary world are people who live just such realities – living in terror and sorrow, hunger and preventable diseases. Children of AIDs. Victims in Syria. The upheaval in Venezuela. The Tatars in Crimea who have been shipped from their home before by Russia, anxious what the future shall bring.
So I am grateful that my teeth hurt. They hurt because I have the opportunity to get dental care – and a little hurt now prevents the bigger, chronic hurts later. I am grateful. And I wonder what I can do to share the privilege.
I am discouraged by all the bitterness about Obamacare, weary of the underlying hint that what really galls us is that I should give up anything for the sake of others. Maybe it’s not the best system – but I hear no other drumbeat to provide for our neighbor.
But this is not about national health care policy. It is about the grateful heart. And the hope that a little more gratitude might beget in us a little more charity.