Monday, May 04, 2009


I was booked a long time ago to give the keynote address at the annual conference of dental hygienists. I wanted to say no, but the request was made with such genuine interest in hope, such confidence in my ability to make it meaningful, that I heard myself agreeing to do it. Deep down inside me I felt the threat, a tiny trickle of fear with the power to wash away the entire dike of my confidence. It was the fear born of an infrequent flosser.
Let me say in our defense, for I know I am not alone in this, that we infrequent flossers are not all cut from the same cloth. Some of us don’t choose the floss-deficient life. The life chooses us. It positions our teeth close together, packs them in tighter than bus riders in rush hour. Try to slide a dental string between bus riders in rush hour! You’ll see just how difficult it is. The string will stick. Then it will fray. Then it will snap downwards causing pain and maybe even bloodshed.
Some days I decide that being an infrequent flosser is a choice I am not prepared to make. On such mornings I take a deep breath, pull out a length of waxy floss, cut it on the little cutter and start the painful procedure. Five minutes later I am off to work with gums oozing and fuzzy floss shards huddling amongst my molars.
”Do you floss?” asks the hygienist when I go for the regular cleaning. (I’d be happy to skip the cleaning, but the dentist never offers this possibility.)
“Sometimes,” I reply with a clear conscience. She has to believe me. I am certain she’ll find the shards among the bacteria to prove it. They take a long time to decompose.
With my history weighing a heavy burden on my heart, I prepared for the dental hygienists conference. Pre-conference intelligence had already informed me that 267 of them would be crammed into a ball room awaiting my proclamations on hope. I was, understandably, afraid to open my mouth. But then I received an unexpected gift.
The gift was delivered in the parking lot outside a grocery store where we stopped for milk on our way home from the blood donor party. It is a small store with a small parking lot. Some of the spaces are reserved. One is reserved for people who like broccoli. That one was full. One is reserved for people who eat all their vegetables. That too was full. One is reserved for people with a sweet tooth. Several cars were jammed into that one. But there was one empty space, reserved for people who floss daily.
Under other circumstances the results might have been disastrous. But on this night I was particularly lucky. Not only was I with David, a daily flosser generous enough to let me share the parking space, but I also had been given the opening paragraph for my speech.

No comments: