HE ANSWERED MINE. Albeit out-of-this-world weird and took years to realize. For I was convinced that His faith would defy not only gravity but also great lengths as long as I held on to my feeble, fickle fidelity. Like in the song, “Jesus was four days late…” (unlike His dated delay in granting my request), He was on time in raising Lazarus from the dead. Why then would I begrudge the difference when what was amiss with me was only my teeth! My faith, therefore, was constrained to never waver that He would one day give me a new set of up-and-down ivories (okay, falsies).
In puberty, I thumped my chest whenever men my senior would beam over my feat of opening beer bottles with my teeth. Not only was that skill my passport to free pale pilsen, it also made me feel at par with older, evidently veteran guzzlers. Over time, probably because the bones of the young easily succumb, I lost my two front choppers.
I started praying (worrying is more apt, really) when the loose tooth in my upper denture fell off. It created a gap that showed whenever I opened my mouth and limited the times when I’d smile, which was never an issue when I’m with my church communities and singing and speaking in PREX Weekends (faithful friends who always insisted that God sees my heart and bad teeth were the least of His concerns). Over time, the other loose upper tooth would go through the dentist’s pliers after the remaining lower two teeth loosened as well but held on until I was economically equipped to lose all three of them. Economically would be explained as my meager means coming from my modest Coop monthly honorarium and, when push got to shove, a royal reinforcement that didn’t surprise but still overwhelmed for the loyalty that insisted in spite of a long line of favors in its wake.
The influence I got from the wrongly chosen elders changed as I grew up. Especially when I started high school and met peers who surprised me with their gumption to, at their age, level with my erstwhile acquaintances. Emboldened, I graduated from beer to gin-kalamansi, libated on school time and swaggered back into the classroom reeking with chico-breath.
Before the reassurance, however, I could not take for granted the trickles of tender mercies God dropped on my lap. For one, in the course of my lecturing (the basic formation seminar of which I owe to Ate Ester Urcia) at San Jose ang Tagapagtanggol Parish, I established a kinship with a few Lector-Commentators, one of whom was Ate Leonor Politico. In one of the LeComs’ meetings, where the newly-installed members were going through mentoring by their seniors, I overheard her talk about her new lower denture giving her difficulty in speech. I filed that away for when the opportunity called for its import. Weeks after that, and seeing my loose lower teeth bending from the daily grind (pun intended) they suffer from my ingestions, I risked asking Ate Leony of her denture history. She was at once concerned and offered not only information but her actual accompanying me to the dental technician who replaced (and further repaired) her denture. “Mura lang,” she encouraged me (as though a beggar could choose). What humbled me was her pronouncement of my humility when I admitted that I didn’t have money (and it didn’t take me long to convince her that what I told her was honesty). Long story short, she took me to Sta. Catalina Health Center. I went there twice but was told the dentist, because of many activities, will only be available in April. Undaunted, she quickly thought of Ate Jean Sison, our fellow LeCom, who works at NGC Health Center, a few steps away from Ang Mabuting Pastol Parish. Similarly kind-hearted (there’s only a rare handful who are not as kindly disposed in Doňa Juana), Ate Jean was only too glad to help. The shorter story is that Ate Leony gave me Ate Jean’s cp number; Ate Jean scheduled for me an appointment with their Center’s dentist, Dr. Dindo Eňeco, as amiable, good and cheerful a community servant as all the rest of them. It took me two weeks to heal and, on the second visit, lose the final tooth. I could not thank them enough for the free, sincere and smiling service accorded me all the time I was with them. With Dr. Dindo even adamantly refusing the token I was offering (to cover, at least, the cost of anesthesia). On our way back to the Center, I asked Kuya Tony (on whose motorbike I was backriding) if we could find a decent bakery where I could buy pastries for them. There was none in the areas that we passed by and, before we could turn the right corner from the church, I saw a store selling suman; I bought a bagful and we proceeded to NGC. I felt relieved when Dr. Dindo refused to accept any token from me the second time; at least he’ll find out I was mutually sincere in my appreciation of their generosity, no matter frugal in manner.
College was only an excuse to bond further with my high school friends whose interests were girls, billiards and the movies. I took BA in Management like them, flunked Accounting, and spent the rest of my 37 units shooting pool in the hall above Mercury Drug on Legarda Street gallivanting my way towards wasting my (hard-earned by father) tuition away.
Kuya Bobby, the dental technician, is a sprightly soul, eager to welcome Ate Leony and me and the back job on her denture. She took the backseat to me since I was a new client and waited out her turn. A gentleman came shortly with a similar concern and warmed the seat next to hers. They were all taken care of shortly.
Having dropped college, I could not be choosy with jobs. I started out as a laborer, sales clerked in a department store and moved up as a Casual in a government insurance company. Between here and there, I picked up guts, street smarts and jargon my basic knack for language worked to my advantage. Soon, I even gave up on a permanent government position to answer to the lure of overseas employment.
Between the first trip to Kuya Bobby’s and the present, there have been intervals of awkward moments and anxious moods. I understood that a dentist is far more capable (than a technician) of discerning the outcome of fitting brand new dentures and I was not expecting a perfect fit the first time. But I’m an excitable person. As soon as Kuya Bobby put my pair of falsies in place, I took a selfie and sent my smiling glory to Ate Car and UtoLiza (generous siblings in Christ who assumed the cost from the goodness of their hearts). Ate Car’s response was as delighted as her query on the day that she thought I already had reason to smile again. UtoL’s was cool. Ate Leony and Ate Jean were simply thankful my dental journey was done. It is only Ate Leony I levelled with as regards the difficulty I was going through. Because she understood the corners I cut were the same austere measures she employed.
Petro dollars spoiled me rotten. Newly married before I left for my first job abroad, I was responsible only for two years. Then I picked up a habit here and a vice there and pffft went my resolve to be a better person. I did not only worsen as an individual, I forgot God.
Because Ate Leony and I were both economically strapped, we opted for the more affordable means of getting the situation helped. The good Samaritan that I used to be has been replaced by Christians way beyond my noblest acts of charity (ill-placed because the last to benefit from them was my family). It was a paradigm shift that exceeded my prayerful expectations; a transition that did not insult my humility but, instead, lifted it to a level appreciating their honest acceptance of my poverty of spirit, making the meeting of minds mutual, merciful, magnanimous. More on their part than on mine.
More opportunities for overseas employment came my way. Which lessened my chances for conversion. Long story short, I was hooked on drugs, took my family for granted and wasted away.
Therefore, from the decent dental clinic of Dr. Dindo, to the living room of Kuya Bobby, with only sofas to seat his clients on, I submitted my faith and teeth to the will of God. Ate Leony could not have known that she was the answer to a prayer that had been long silently wished-for (I could not outright ask God for a quick fix, guilty as I was for my past offenses).
Until PREX. And the realization that, even while I was sending myself to seed, God never stopped loving me. To wit: my asthma disappeared when I worked in Saudi Arabia; He intervened when I was being offered a bribe in Taiwan; I did not respond to another job offer in Abu Dhabi; and November was not at all gray when I decided to go through a three-day parish renewal seminar.
There is no need to sink any tooth in my journey. Suffice it to say that I’m back on the road to recovery, with a (maybe) plastic smile but one that’s from the heart. Because felt. I no longer returned to the tech to further fix my lower falsie. I thought it was justified for me to feel the reality of losing what I took for granted by actually feeling what I lost where it matters the most. Aside from the sibilance my lower denture causes to my speech, I’ve adopted a slow go at “chewing” my food lest either comes off. And I’m no longer conscious when I’m up on the ambo, reading as I do, kind of reining my denture in so it doesn’t become discomfiting.
And it has been kosher so far. Amen.