Why I Get Stressed Out at the Dentist (Clue: It’s Not What You Think)

Why I Get Stressed Out at the Dentist (Clue: It’s Not What You Think)

Sitting in my dentist’s chair yesterday, I got a sinking feeling in my stomach.
And not because I share the wide-spread fear of dentists. I’m not afraid of dentists, I suspect because I have what I think of fondly as dental “yichus.” While, to the best of my knowledge, there were no great rabbis in my family tree, there were a lot of dentists. In fact, both of my grandfathers were dentists.
So why, then, do I feel this dreadful dread in the dentist’s chair? The reason is that I sit in that chair every six months for my biannual checkup. And every time, every six months, it feels like just a few weeks have passed since my last appointment. That biannual checkup reminds me that my life is passing by so quickly! As quickly as the towns and fields and strip malls passing outside a car window.
It scares me that my life is slipping away so quickly. Sitting in that dentist chair, with the dentist clawing at my teeth with that picky thingy, I wonder how many dentist appointments I have left in this world.
And what scares me the most about my life rushing by like this (aside from the regular worries we all have about growing old and sick and dying etc.) is that I’m afraid that I really haven’t figured things out yet. The Mishna teaches that “Age 50 is for giving advice.” Which I take to mean that at the age of 50 I’m supposed to have flawless wisdom! Laser-sharp clarity! And while 50 isn’t breathing down my neck, it’s only a handful of dentist appointments away! While there are topics I could give advice on even today, I still feel like more than I should be giving advice, I’m very much in need of it!
Anyway, there is one image that comforts me when I get stressed out like this about how my life is rushing by.
When I visited Uman last month, I told you that I joined up with a group run by Rabbi Michi Yosefi and singer Evyatar Banai. On Friday, Rav Michi led us in a workshop on hitbodedut, personal spontaneous communication with God, in the beautiful, expansive Sofia Garden.
We finished up the workshop with half an hour of hitbodedut. Each of us found our own private corner of Sofia Garden and, well, you know, talked with God. Or at least gave it our best shot.
And I told God about this fear I have that my life is slipping through my fingers. And there is still so much stuff I haven’t figured out yet!
And then I looked up at the gigantic tree I was sitting across from and noticed a centipede making her way up its trunk. Little by little, creep by creep.
And that centipede, I thought, wasn’t stressed out that it wasn’t higher up the tree. Or that she had so much further to go until the top. She just kept on going. Creep by creep. Doing what she needed to do at that moment, and always, even if indetectably, pulling herself higher.

8 comments

  1. thank you, chana jenny. this is just what i needed to read this morning!
    i also had a fleeting feeling of despair that my life is rushing through my fingers, and i have so much more to do!!
    (i don’t measure my life in dental appointments. i measure it in batches of granola, which i make every two weeks…it makes my life seem so much more fleeting than 6 month intervals. maybe i should change my measuring rod?)

  2. Actually I was realizing yesterday that I’m always listening to Emunah and bitachon shiurim. And I have been working on that for a looong time. As I’m getting older, like you guys, I thought maybe it’s time I focused on something else. I can’t just work on the one middah that interests me the most, maybe it’s time I start listening to things that don’t interest me as much so I can work on a middah that I’m not good at at all.
    That could be something to make you feel like you’re getting somewhere as you get older!

  3. Such a vulnerable, open piece. Thank you for sharing this with us. I also feel comforted. Just focus on doing our best, one step at a time.

  4. 50 should be a breeze, you’ve had so many years of practice!!LOL!!
    You’ve been doing extremely well in the advice department. May you go from strength to strength until 120 and beyond!!

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