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I cannot place the precise moment in time when I passed the point of no return. If one is already past it, what I am about to relate will make perfect sense. The rest will understand some day, God willing. I refer, of course, to the undeniable case for mortality, which no human in history, save two (Enoch and Elijah), can escape.

Each day with revving engine, one presses forward having idled briefly in the garage of the past. Easing out into traffic, one cannot help merging into the present. Squinting cautiously through the windshield of opportunity, the eyes remain intently transfixed on the headlight beams, which illuminate the darkness of the future.

Over time, the tendency is to forget how far one has traveled. Sometimes it is all one can do just to pull into a driveway of sanctuary, at the next rest stop along life's imposing highway. Perhaps it was during one of those attempts to get off of the main thoroughfare, that I missed the precise moment of which I am speaking, namely: the mile-marker of life signifying one's life had not nearly begun as much as it had more nearly ended.

I mention this phenomenon not for philosophy's sake or to dredge up psychological demons for those predisposed to paranoia. Rather, it is because so much importance is placed on racing ahead in life, one could easily ignore the pedestrian crossings. Accidents aside, slowing down or even coming to a complete stop can yield some of the more significant impacts in the life of any human being.

Eighteen months ago, my wife, Linda, made a promise to a dying next-door neighbor woman. Her two youngest children, a boy, Cameron (age five) and his sister, Carra (age four) had watched their mother suffer from a debilitating (Crohn's) disease, which she succumbed to on a Thanksgiving weekend. The children had been struggling in school, so Linda offered to help tutor them. My wife promised to look in on the children from time to time, help them if she could, and honor the memory of their mom.

About six months following the funeral, things fell apart for the widower next-door. Linda had helped babysit and tutor the children, but now a move was inevitable. True to her word, she asked the father if she could continue helping the children, even though they were moving forty miles away. Three times a week, rain or shine, I have watched my devoted and determined wife trek seemingly endless miles to honor her vow to a dead woman. She will probably throttle me when she learns I have written this about her.

Last week, Linda announced Cameron and Carra were coming over Friday to visit us and stay over the weekend. The children had asked her to show me their report cards. I was most impressed by their good ratings by the teacher, particularly with reading and spelling. Linda's investments were yielding dividends.

The children had visited with us for a weekend or two in the past, but this weekend was different. There was no banner flying over head to announce anything noteworthy, in fact, it wasn't until the children had returned home to their dad that it dawned on me. Now that our three children were all adults, we had become surrogate grandparents!

The defining moment for me occurred with Cameron. When we picked them up from their daycare facility Friday afternoon, Cameron was working on a loose lower tooth, which he desperately wanted out. When I asked to see it, the top of a new tooth was just breaking the gumline behind the loose one. No doubt about it, this baby tooth would have to go.

"Greg, would you pull it for me?" Cameron asked.

"Sure," I smiled, "I come from a long line of tooth-pullers."

"Really?" his eyes grew wider.

"If you want, I'll pull it out this weekend, Cameron," I promised.

"It won't hurt, will it?" one hand popped over his mouth.

"Only for a moment."

Cameron allowed me to wiggle his tooth to test it. But as soon as I put a bit of forward pressure on it, he winced and pulled back quickly.

"Owwwww!" he shouted.

This kid was not going to give up his tooth so easily, I surmised. It could be a very long weekend.

I had forgotten how much work went into caring for younger children. Cameron and Carra soon reminded me. It seemed as if Linda and I were the only available power source and the children were light bulbs. They demanded a great deal of attention and we gave it in greater abundance. Our home was alive with laughter and small voices and barking dogs and more laughter. It was a holiday in April!

Saturday, the "moment of tooth" finally came. After shopping for a new dress for Carra and an outfit for Cameron, we carted them off for haircuts with our favorite hairstylist, Lisa. Linda stayed with the kids and I ran home for a few minutes to relax and catch my second-wind.

About an hour later, Linda phoned to be picked up. As I arrived at the hair shop, Cameron was practically bouncing off of the walls with excitement. Linda and Carra were both having their hair styled. When he saw me enter the door, Cameron made a beeline for me. I met him at the doorway between the waiting area and the salon floor.

"Greg!" Cameron shouted in excitement. "My tooth is getting looser."

"It is?" I mocked. "Are you sure?"

"Yeah," he replied, wiggling the culprit-tooth with one hand.

"May I see it?" I said casually.

This has always been the "clincher" line in tooth-pulling circles. It was time to pull out all the stops and yank that critter out of the boy's skull. He had no clue what was about to happen.

He raised his chin and presented the loose tooth. I reached in with my right index finger. Like a fisherman reeling in the big catch after playing the fish for awhile, I felt the tooth was just in the right spot to force it out. It just felt right. There is no other way to explain it.

"Wow, Cameron this does feel loose... "

I continued talking as I thrust my finger behind the tooth and down sharply, then out, in a fluid motion like pounding a single piano key. Cameron gasped in shock. His head tilted downward. We watched as an ivory chip sailed to the floor.

"My tooth!" Cameron yelled triumphantly. "Look Linda, I lost my tooth!"

Completely lost in his reverie, a bloody-lipped Cameron paraded his tooth past all of the women like a victorious soldier marching in a parade before an adoring crowd. Once he was cleaned up and had his tooth secured for posterity (and an over-priced Tooth Fairy), Cameron revealed it was his very first baby tooth to come out. And somehow, I had become his hero.

It was only a little thing; a small, nearly invisible piece of enamel and absolutely useless once pulled. But to Cameron, it was a promotion. He was no longer a baby. He had come of age, so to speak. And suddenly, I felt very young again. And then I realized how old I had become.

I thank God for moments like these. How much poorer a man would I be without the benefit of my tooth-pulling prowess and the adoration of one toothless little boy? I am convinced more than ever, that we humans grow closer to our Creator through small acts of kindness toward others rather than through any monument erected to Mankind's glory.

I cannot speak for God, but I'll take a toothless kid over a bronze statue any day. I suspect He would, too.



------
The Gadfly


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