Some days, it seems like not much. We have to take care of mundane business or complete work tasks that seem meaningless. We can even become so entrenched in these mindless tasks that we miss the opportunities for meaningful encounters when they come our way. And as long as we are alive and awake, meaningful encounters will indeed come our way.
This past week, I went to get my teeth cleaned, a task I do not enjoy. Although I know that clean teeth contribute to my overall health, there is a certain level of meaninglessness that I can attach to this event. Worse than simple drudgery, it’s uncomfortable. I don’t like it.
But something happened during this particular visit. At some point in the cleaning, for no obvious reason, the dental hygienist began telling me the story of the death of her 19-year-old son, unexpectedly, on Christmas morning of this past year. The story she told was so stunning and so deeply moving that it was hard to take in. I’m not sure how it happened, but I realized at some point that she had stopped cleaning, and I had stopped breathing. I had placed my hand over my heart as I took in the grief and pain of this mother reliving the unimaginable.
After a moment, she looked down at me, tears welling in her eyes, and said, “Oh, good lord! I’m supposed to be cleaning your teeth!” I think the moment had caught us both by surprise, and I knew that this new moment of awareness presented a choice to me — to move ahead with the mundane, or to give this holy present moment the full attention it deserved.
I chose the latter.
“That’s not important right now,” I said. “Please tell me the rest of your story.”
And she did. It wasn’t necessarily a story I wanted to hear more of. It was heavy, and it was tragic. But it felt like this moment had been presented to us for this purpose. It seemed she had reached a point where she needed to release it once again, and it felt like years of study and meditation and spiritual journeying had prepared me for, if nothing else ever, precisely this moment. And what I was called to do was to listen. Just listen.
I thanked her for honoring me with the story and offered the grossly insufficient condolences that are all we have to give when limited to mere words, and I silently prayed that my willingness to be in that moment with her would offer a balm of some sort.
She did finish cleaning my teeth eventually, and I left. I was grateful I could be there at that moment for her, but just like every other time when I have been presented the opportunity to serve others, what I was left with when all was said and done was the profound awareness that the experience had also been a gift for me. I was changed by her story.
I was reminded that eddies of spiritual energy are swirling around us at all times just waiting for the slight sign of our willingness and our readiness to be pulled into the vortex of what really matters.
And I was reminded once again that when faced with a choice between the mundane and the meaningful, always choose the meaningful.