Teaching and Learning
After a couple years as a dental practice associate, I took a job in a recently opened community college dental hygiene program. Being a youngish male in a uniformed swirl of hard-working youngish females seemed to suit me. When I wasn’t giving a lecture on various tooth-filling materials or allegedly painless injections, I was in clinic supervising the scraping, buffing and upkeep of everything between the lips and larynx. ‘Supervising’ was a legal term of the board of dental licensing, but it generally meant wearing a white coat, autographing all sorts of paperwork, and chatting it up with the students’ unending line of siblings, friends, cousins, and parents they recruited as patients.
Edna, our rather confused administrative assistant wasn’t really sure what it was I did for eight hours three days a week. More than once she would explain to someone on the phone in her lazy southern drawl that Dr. Deviny could not talk right now because he was on the floor with one of his students. There were any number of hilarious stories from those years. Some bear repeating. Some not.
Most of the faculty were clinicians, good ones to be sure, but we were not academics. We received the textbooks for our classes at the same time as the students. I did well to stay a chapter ahead. Washington State was among the first in the country to have recently allowed non-dentists to give anesthetic and perform tooth fillings, and I made up the curriculum as we went. Many of the students had been seasoned dental assistants, and I was more than humble enough to rely on them. The teamwork and support was so very unlike what I had experienced in dental school.
Considering the background noises of spit being suctioned and handpieces whistling, it was a most delightful place to work for a crazy low salary. I loved it.
When it came to the classroom or clinical coaching, I probably thought I was more effective and entertaining than I was. You’d have to ask the dozens of women and several men with whom I shared the experience in those thirteen years. As most teachers do, I loved the attention. And because of the ‘dynamic’ — yes, that’s what I’ll call it — I was often called upon to fill in as a big brother, confidant, and a shoulder to cry on about boyfriends or the understandably more demanding female faculty.
In a way, I was just one of the girls. I had sincere respect for them, their profession, their dedication and drive. Though I made my share of mistakes, I didn’t pull rank with the students, and recall being consciously cautious so as not to lose trust and respect. Somewhat insecure, I just wanted to belong. Sort of like a mascot.
Speaking of which, one year I received a most ridiculous looking rooster for my birthday. A few years later, another class who heard I owned an empty chicken coop brought a giftbox of baby chicks to my annual year-end party we called the “Interdental Stimulator”. (What were these kids trying to tell me?!)
I remained single or rather single during those years, apparently unable to find any companions as energetic, smart and appealing as most of the girls with whom I spent my days. What can I say? In some cases the social connection extended (he confesses) to our ‘extramural program’ which consisted of parties, tavern ‘field trips’, ski excursions, and potluck dinners at my apartment chaperoned by my cat.
Yes, there was the occasional teasing remark and ‘appreciative’ glance. And hugs. Who doesn’t like hugs? And even on the couple situations I was quite certainly – um – hit upon, I don’t remember feeling all that harassed, creeped out, or uncomfortable. 😉 Times are different now they say.
CoinciDentally – he punned – my wife Cheryl completed the dental hygiene program in 1980. She claims she had a crush on me in school. Could be she was angling for a good grade. We had our first date eight years later and have been married going on 30 years. How about that? She gets an A.
Not that anyone is interested, but as I pretend to be a (mediocre) poet and (unmusical) songwriter, I will share a chorus from one of my more heart-felt and tolerable tunes. It is supposed to be a turn of a phrase from the sixties when ‘free love’ meant something much less spiritual than I had in mind when I wrote:
“Then it happened to you, and it happened to me. We fell in love but kept our independency. We were free to choose then, and we’re free to choose still. Love loses all its power when you lose your free will. Now all the world sees you and me — grow stronger as we honor what we’ve come to be.
Love is a surrendering to destiny. So let this be our legacy: -Free Love-“
Up In The Air
One of the dizzying high points in any relationship is finding out what you didn’t know. I must here add that considerable thought and household ‘negotiation’ went into how (or why) to recount Cheryl’s fortunes in the 8 years between coy, inscrutable student and not-so-blind date. Suffice to say, she had been dating a quite successful businessman, an importer with a flair for the finer things. No problem there, right? Textiles, wines, unique third-world furniture, hand-woven carpets, ‘botanicals’, you know…such things…
From what I understand, Cheryl did on occasion cross borders with certain items that might have attracted the attention of authorities if she hadn’t been so darn beautiful, calm and unlikely. Why do I tell you this? Because I have an amused respect for her adventurous past, and concluded that the combination of naivety, confidence and daring that was required to partake in ‘international trade’ at the time would surely ready someone who had to be married to me!
She was reflecting recently about the night her boyfriend’s twin turboprop ran out of fuel in the skies over western Oregon. She watched as first one propeller then the other stopped spinning, but recalls “just knowing” they would not be killed or maimed as the aircraft repeatedly twisted and banked severely trying to slow its speed to land without dropping out of the sky or running off the runway into a cornfield. The (thankfully empty) plane expertly touched down and coasted over to refuel. ‘Never a doubt,’ Cheryl says.
That’s the kind of attitude you want in a life partner, gentlemen: Never a Doubt.
The Last Match
Here’s the deal. Cheryl and I have each been married once – to each other. We are happy, lucky, and mutually faithful for going on three decades. We’re free in love, and chances are we’re going to stay that way. Life together, like all relationships, can only excel when you have the time to choose the self-forgiveness and fearlessness to get out of your own way. Then it asks only that eventually we both see our own and the other’s perfection.
Never a doubt? Well, the easiest lessons come hard. But only because we put off choosing to hold the purpose of love differently. That’s the Free part. Only when we get over ourselves and trust in a deeper consciousness are we free to not just be in love but to BE love. That’s the Love part. Such was the lesson I came to embrace anyway.
Another lesson I learned, back in the day, was this: If someone gives you a box of baby chickens, remember to install a heat lamp before tucking them in to spend the night in a rare June freeze. Not my best day.