My Smile

I never smile with my teeth. At least, not on purpose. I have need for quite a bit of dental work, but have never been willing or able to invest the money. However, the most visible flaw that I seek to hide is a broken tooth, which I’ve had for 35 years. Today that will change. In a couple of hours I will finally have a crown put on that tooth.

I’ve related the story of my broken tooth to audiences when speaking about fighting and turning the other cheek. You see my tooth got knocked out by an employee of an Exxon gas station.

It was 1983 in Phoenix, Az, and I was on Christmas break from Baylor University. I purchased a 1970 yellow Chevelle Malibu to get around. One December evening I decided to go to Metrocenter Mall to see the movie Bladerunner. However, my Chevy was running rough. I figured the timing needed to be adjusted, so I pulled into a full-service Exxon gas station near the mall. The bay door of the garage was up with a big sign that said, “open.” I parked and asked the guy if he’d put a timing light on my car real quick. He said, “We’re closed.” I pointed out that the sign said open. He insisted. I walked away and muttered an obscenity under my breath.

I sat in the driver’s seat and proceeded to try staring my car. Next thing I know there’s the employee I’d asked, standing at my open window. He grabbed my face with a greasy hand and punched me with the other. I watched my tooth fly across into the passenger side of the car.I was shocked, injured, in an indefensible position and probably outnumbered, since I seem to remember seeing another guy walking up behind my attacker. So, I pulled away. Humiliated

I had to have emergency surgery on the tooth that night to disconnect the nerve. For 35 years I ‘ve lived with that broken tooth. It’s been a reminder of several things.

1) Watch your mouth. I haven’t always done so to this day. However, blurting out whatever you feel can get you hurt or in trouble. We have some politicians today that could stand to learn this lesson today.

2) Be mindful. Have 360 degree awareness of people and surroundings. It’s too easy to be distracted. Far more so now than in ’83 due to all of our little tech gadgets. There are bad people out there, and they will take advantage of those whom they perceive to be weaker than themselves.

3) Don’t allow a potential threat to approach me while sitting in the car with an open window. Keep the window up. Don’t roll it down to meet a confrontation. If I cannot drive off, I’ll get out of the car.

4) Turning the other cheek is costly. It’s humiliating to get hit and not hit back. My pride was more injured than my tooth. I wanted to return to the garage that night with some big friends and pay the guy back. I didn’t. Not fighting back bothered me for many years, even though I am a Christian who says he believes in the teaching of Jesus. However, this is the perfect example of what Jesus spoke about. I turn the other cheek in response to an offense, not an onslaught. This guy proved to be what I had called him under my breath, a jerk (I used a more offensive term), and he hit me and hurt me because I had offended him. It stopped there. He didn’t keep hitting me. His friend/co-worker didn’t hit me. I was permitted to leave. Self-defense was not necessary, except that I should have been aware of the threat and blocked a punch.

Thirty-five years is a long time to live with a broken tooth and an embarrassing smile. Hopefully, the need for a reminder to keep my mouth shut is over. After today I’ll smile a little more. In fact, I’m thinking of getting braces in the near future, so a mega-watt smile may be in the works.

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