How brave are you? I mean, on a scale of 1 – 10 how easy would you find it to: –
be admitted to hospital for an operation
spend an evening with strangers
make a speech at short notice
go to the dentist
I would score 2, 9, 8 and 1 respectively. I don’t like anaesthetics, I hate being parted from my watch, bag and glasses. I catastrophise. Having said that, my new addiction to Grey’s Anatomy has helped a bit. I could probably remove my own appendix now.
I don’t mind strangers, even in large groups. In fact, my daughter says she thinks she and I can come across as ‘aggressively friendly’. We find new people intriguing and tend to go into overdrive trying to get to know them. When they back away, looking scared, we take up the challenge. And follow them.
I could make a speech at short notice, It might not be any good (I usually plan such things in minute detail), but I could do it and it wouldn’t worry me much. Most teachers can waffle for England.
But the dentist – now that’s another matter.
It’s all a bit odd at these places now, isn’t it? I had to park some way away, we had to wait outside, it was raining. A masked woman came to the door from time to time brandishing hand gel and a thermometer and called out something. I assume it was people’s names. Owing to a long-term health condition, I have an implanted hearing aid but with the masks etc it’s hard going. Each time she called out something (Leather Knees?) someone would nod and go up for their temperature check. On that occasion it was a woman went, so maybe Heather Rees or similar. With the mask and the hearing aid, it was hard to tell.
Anyway, eventually I was the only one left, my name was called so I went to the door.
‘Perfect,’ trilled the woman about my temperature.
The dentist was really nice – young with smiley eyes and the sort of tufty hair that is somehow endearing. His assistant was nice too. I explained I was an anxious patient with a hearing issue. They assured me this was just the check-up, they would speak loudly, they wouldn’t tell me off about the parlous state of my gums. Or lack of flossing. They laughed at my jokes.
I was reeling off my list of medication while the dentist poked about in my mouth. They seemed to have some on record and not others, the assistant said. A form was wafted past me.
‘Is that your address?’ I didn’t have my glasses on, added to which I was horizontal and the form was far away but it looked OK. There was a C in there somewhere, a T. I nodded. After all, my mouth was full of fingers.
‘Um, when is your date of birth?’ I told them. There was a pause.
‘Erm, you are Alice Blackwell, aren’t you?’
They had both stopped moving, her fingers above the keyboard, his gloved hands above my mouth. Glancing back, and up, they looked like a couple of weird green sausage sellers.
I cannot explain why I so nearly said Yes. Why would I even think of it? Maybe because I’d been nervous and feeling I’d bonded with them. Or the thought of going through it all again with someone else – the hearing/mask issues, the parlous-state-of-my-gums thing. Or that they laughed at my jokes. I really don’t know.
I sighed deeply. Summoning all my courage, I looked up at them and gulped. ‘No.’ I confessed.
They were very kind. It could have happened to anyone. It wasn’t a problem. If I wouldn’t mind just waiting at Reception for a minute or two? What was my real name? (Real?!) I whispered my name reluctantly. At that moment, more than anything on earth, I wanted to be Alice Blackwell.
As I left the room, I felt ashamed I’d nearly stolen Alice’s identity along with her dentist. I turned.
“Is the other one as nice as you?” I asked him, “He’s very nice,” said the assistant vehemently,
“Oh, he is,” said the dentist, “Really nice.” They were both nodding so hard, they nearly dropped their sausages. I smiled. Always moving, the kindness of strangers.
Well, the other one was fine, really, and so was his side-kick. I went through the whole routine again and by the time he started poking around in my mouth with sharp things, muttering the whole 1,2,3 occlusal 4 business, my flush was fading. I have to go back in June for 4 fillings and a Deep Clean. I got a Costa on the way home to celebrate how far away that is.
My little act of bravery, of course, was nothing. We have friends facing terrible things: a health crisis, a job loss, bereavement. They are doing so with dignity and grace. Bravery is a funny thing. It has nothing to do with personality or emotional strength. The most unlikely people do the bravest things. Sometimes it’s just keeping going when life sucks, grabbing with both hands the things that help : prayer, sleep, friends, a coffee, the kindness of strangers.
We never know how brave we are ’til we need to be.
So I think I’ll leave my appendix where it is, drink coffee, repeat my name out loud (in a mask) so I remember how it sounds. And when I go back in June, I’ll turn my hearing aid up and wear my reading glasses.
I’m a freelance writer and teacher with interests in education, mental health and community. I like to blog about everyday life, hope and the silly, incongruous things that shape us and make us who we are. My novella, The Evenness of Things, is currently available as an amazon ebook and will soon be released as a paperback. It’s the story of what happens when a woman buys a house without telling her husband.
My full length novel, Braver, will be published by Fairlight Books in the summer of 2022. The book tells a tale of unlikely friendships and heart-breaking decisions. With themes around mental health, identity and the need to belong, Braver explores how a local community responds when something threatens its very heart.