Story by Malati Marlene Shinazy
The need for a root canal sometimes just sneaks up on us. One day I’m unconsciously consuming a thousand chocolate chip cookies, and then suddenly I feel an unrelenting pain in one of my molars. That afternoon, I’m in my dentist’s chair, getting a root canal. The process hurts so much I grow in character just having endured it.
Could I have done anything to prevent this? Say, eaten fewer cookies? No… in this case the root canal was due to a low-grade infection that sat for years, undetected.
Oddly, like low grade infections, my unconscious behaviors with friends can sit latent for years and become toxic, and on rare occasion erupt, causing an abrupt and painful end to a friendship.
Usually my friendships are a source of shared enjoyment and comfortable acceptance. The flaws in each of us are overlooked because, in balance, the contentment of the friendship outweighs them. Then something unexpected happens.
Ten years ago, one of my closest friendships ended quite badly – horribly, with a lot of finger pointing and accusatory shouting. It was quite ugly. Like a two year old, I privately ranted, calling her all those labels that would hurt her if I ever said them face-to-face. “She is egotistical and self-centered; a horrible and stupid human being. I never want to talk to her again, ever-ever!”
Unlike like a two year old, however, instead of addressing her directly, I typed the words next to her name in my cell phone. Should she ever dare call, my caller ID would warn: “Josie / STUPID & selfish”
Years passed with no communication. Then one day, a text from Josie arrived. Having long forgotten the poorly ended friendship, I replied. After multiple rounds of texting… she suddenly stopped. After a few weeks, I texted her:
Me: “What happened to you?”
Josie: “What happened? What do you think happened? I’m going to keep talking to you while you continue to call me names?”
As if picking up from our past, I retorted, “Are we going to start this finger-pointing thing again?”
Then I remembered… the old notations after her name still remained in my phone!
I immediately felt embarrassed and ashamed. Like the undetected infection in my mouth, the deep-seated, immature meanness in me had caused Josie emotional pain. I immediately began an excision process, a sort of deep cleaning to rid myself of this tendency and to be conscious of it going forward. And – right now – to update my phone.
When I called Josie to offer a truly heartfelt apology and explanation of why I was “calling her names” in our previous texts, we talked at length about how we each behaved a decade ago. I shared with her the unscheduled but necessary mental-emotional “root canal process” I needed before calling to apologize. I sensed we both had grown and perhaps would rebuild our friendship.
After I hung up, I reflected, humorously….
It was mother’s insistence that I go to the dentist twice a year. And, sometimes, I still needed the dreaded root canal… But, as I mentioned before, I grew in character just having endured it. Now, with a lovely new crown set in place I could continue my life, spontaneously glinting a healthy smile.
As I’ve come to discover, the same can be true with my friendships.
photo by Malati Marlene Shinazy
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