On my last month of teaching in DC I frequently shared a message I received, that was playing louder and louder:
When faced with a challenge, do you contract or expand? This is wisdom.
I've been paying for, but not using, dental insurance for 18 months (Thanks, Obama! Sincerely, thank you. You, too, Pelosi), and in the twilight of my time in the states I went in for a cleaning and to fill a cavity I've had longer than I'd care to admit. The cleaning was covered, but the rest of the work costed over $1,000 and there was no way I could afford that.
Since I grew up on the US/Mexico border, I knew I could get affordable dental work on my upcoming visit to the family.
Immediately after walking across the international bridge, there are at least a hundred dental offices within a square mile. The first one I walked into had a sign out front, "We speak English," but no availability. A nice man with gang tattoos, bright blue eyes, and incredible English overheard I needed fillings and walked me to a dentist he knew.
This dentist didn't speak English, but his equipment was more modern than the dentist I saw in Northeast DC and he at least has a hygienist to suck the excess saliva out of my mouth. I've had incredibly positive experiences with my dental work in Mexico over the years. When I suffered from TMJ 10 years ago, all the US dentists I saw wanted with either break my jaw and surgically reattach it, or put me back in braces for two years. I visited a Dr. Alatorre in Mexico once a week, and he slowly adjusted my mouth guard until the chronic jaw pain finally relented. And it was a tenth, probably less, of the cost of a dramatic and painful US intervention.
The DC dentist told me I had two cavities, the one today said I had four. I didn't have time for a second opinion and all I could say was "fill em up."
In the chair with the bright light in my face the dentist performed the most questionable dental work I'd ever received and I was worried my teeth would be irreparably damaged, I would have to pay big bucks to a dentist on the US side, or more realistically, live with the consequences for a few years until I could afford to fix it. We could barely communicate and I felt vulnerable, helpless, scared, even angry.
My fingers slipped from one mala bead to another as I chanted a mantra for Ganesh. Remove my obstacles. But instead the sneaky Lord gave me the very wisdom I had been teaching.
This experience happens every day in the US. We have millions of non-English in our country who have no idea what kind of service they are receiving because of language and economic barriers. I'm fairly educated, I've had money before, I know what it's like to be rich - but for a moment I knew what it was like to be fearful about my health because I had to make decisions driven by financial scarcity. The fear in my heart was no longer alone, alongside it compassion. I continued to thumb my mala, taking a full inhale and exhale for every bead, looping around once, coming back, and then forward again. Om gam ganapataye namaha. Through this experience, I expanded.
Jai Ganesh! Thank you for the wisdom.
And I am so fucking excited about all of the opportunities I will have to expand from this next adventure, the greatest of my life