Yesterday my dentist removed a tooth. I had previously had a root canal and a crown done on that tooth, and now I was having it removed because the crown fell off, the tooth cracked and there was a minuscule spot of rot, all which led to the determination that trying to keep what was left of the tooth sturdy and healthy was more trouble than it was worth. I had a moment of frustration as I thought about how I had paid for and suffered through two prior “treatments” for this tooth (root canal, then crown) only to have it removed anyway. A waste of money; a waste of time; a waste of pain. Then I kind of laughed at the situation – at the fact that, no matter how much time and effort we spent on that tooth, the only way to really be free from the angst it caused was to remove it. Perhaps if we had been able to make that determination from the beginning, I could have saved myself some pain, some money, some time charged at work not to mention time missed from my daily activities as I recovered.
Alas, hindsight is 20/20 and not all endings are evident at the beginning. How often have I wondered: “If only I could have known then what I know now, I could have saved myself so much wasted time, effort and pain.”
Once, I would have fretted over losing that tooth, something that will never grow back, leaving a hole in my mouth that will never be filled by another tooth. I would worry that it is yet another sign of my aging and less than healthy body and wondered when my next tooth will go or what else will go wrong or fall apart on my body. In essence, this single event would have caused me to question my past decisions, doubt my present health and worry about my future problems.
And it occurred to me that I have approached my life and relationships the same way for the better part of my 39 years.
However, as I get older, I am learning more and more each day how to detach from the events in my life that make me unhappy or cause me pain or loss. Where once I would have been devastated for a week, a month or even a year over things that went wrong in my life, I find myself shaking it all off much quicker and moving on. I no longer take responsibility for other people’s actions, words or feelings the way I once did. I am learning to let go and say good-bye to the people and things that no longer work in my life, some that cause pain, some that simply don’t invoke pleasure, and some that can’t figure out what they want and where they want to be; whether they’re the ones who walk away or I am. I am able to remember that sometimes holding on is just prolonging the pain and discomfort for no good reason and that the healing will begin as soon as the source of the pain is removed. Getting mad at those people or things for not being better, healthier aspects in my life is like getting mad at my tooth: nature has taken its course, and this thing that once seemed (and maybe was) healthy and whole and played a valuable role in my overall well-being no longer does, so removing it is the simple, sane logical thing to do.
Sure, I wish every relationship (and body part for that matter) remained vital, healthy and strong in my life, but wishing doesn’t make that a reality. Removing the unhealthy parts from my life, or accepting that sometimes they break away on their own, leaves me more time and energy to focus on the healthy parts, appreciate what does work and value those things and relationships that continue to thrive, bringing happiness, joy and contentment because of that health and strength.
Yes, there are times when a wound can be healed; when nurturing and gentleness, patience and understanding can nurse something that is ailing back to full health. But, sometimes, all the care and attention in the world isn’t going to amount to a hill of beans, and all you’ll wind up doing is wasting your time, your money and a little of your pride.
Sometimes, you just have to pull the tooth, get through the pain and live with the loss.
I hope I can apply this “new found” wisdom to my life. Enjoy the moment, the experience, and the relationship, for what it is and for how long it is there. And when I realize it is not what I wanted or expected it to be, when it is no longer making me happy or, worse yet, starts to cause me pain, I hope I can save myself a lot of wasted time and energy and angst and just remove it or walk away; without bitterness, anger or sadness; accepting it no longer does what it once did or promised to do and leave it behind so that I can focus on the things that remain and still work.
So I say good-bye to my tooth and a few other things I have lost in my life recently. The hole will always remind me of what used to be there and I will miss it, knowing nothing will ever replace it, but at least it will no longer cause me pain.
And that is a good thing.