Simple Human Kindness

I’m not a fan of the dentist – never have been, but an experience of a failed extraction where the anaesthetic didn’t work around 9 years ago seriously scarred me. I never wanted to go back… Not having ever had an extraction before I just presumed it would hurt to some degree. Apparently it’s not supposed to hurt at all… I know that now.

On that occasion the dentist I visited dosed me up with anaesthetic right to the point where I simply couldn’t have any more – and still it hurt like crazy. After 40 minutes of wriggling and whining and getting nowhere I remember saying ‘just go as hard as you can and I’ll suck it up…’ After what felt like 10 seconds but was more likely 3 or 4 I tapped out. It was sheer intense agony. I dunno how people do it in countries without the facilities we have. She left me on a cheery note ‘don’t worry you can come back next week and we’ll have another try…’ Yeah right…’ I went to our church bloke’s group where I sat zombified for the next 90 minutes – happy to be out of there but in disbelief that I still had to do it all over again.

As it turned out the dentist on the return visit was a grade above the apprentice who was working on me and she got it out – but I lay rigid, frozen with fear, the whole time.

I have had 2 teeth extracted in the last month both at our local Yanchep Dentist and on both occasions I have been dreading the events. Fear lingers. That one event marked me. 

However these times were different. What really impressed me wasn’t the skill of the dentist – although both were very good at getting the teeth out and  keeping me ok during the event. But I was struck by the dental nurse who clearly picked up my anxiety. (I was trying to lie still and be touch but I think I was like a tin soldier.) On the first occasion she gently rubbed my hand and my brow and told me it would be ok. I was conscious of it feeling like an odd thing to be on the receiving end of – a 59 year old man afraid and uptight – but at the same time I was aware of her care easing me and calming me.

It was quite beautiful.

As I went in today for what was apparently going to be a ‘complicated extraction’ (cue the fear meter to register off the chart) I saw her there and she seemed to recognise me too. I felt better straight away knowing I had her. As the dentist looked into my mouth, he identified a wisdom tooth that had shifted since my last visit. ‘Right – let’s start here’ he said. I had come in for a different tooth, but now there 2 that needed extracting… As he poked around my mouth, I called a halt to proceedings and began to talk of general anaesthetic, getting the two done in one hit – waking up with it all over…

The crazy cost almost seemed worth it, but then my other side kicked in and said ‘ok let’s just do this thing…’

We agreed to the ‘complicated tooth’ with the wisdom tooth saved for another day. Joy.

Again as the dentist’s tools did their yanking and cracking in my mouth her hand was on top of mine, her fingers gently calming me – and it genuinely eased my fear. I didn’t realise human touch could make such a difference, especially from someone I didn’t know and before whom I felt weak and vulnerable. So thank you to S for not just being efficient and good with the tools but for seeing people for who they are – even anxious older men who you may expect to be tougher than that…

I’m not. But I’m also not dreading future visits anything like I have been

i think we all sometimes wonder how we ‘make a difference’ at work. Here’s a case in point. Learn from S and just see the people in front of you for who they are and respond to them as they need it – even if they don’t even know that they need it. I didn’t go in hoping the nurse would be kind and compassionate – would stroke my hand – but I left grateful that she wasn’t inhibited or restrained by any social conventions that ruled out physical touch with a client.

So We’re the Good Guys Right?

So we’re the good guys… right?…

Growing up in Belfast I was well aware that Protsestants (us) and Catholics (them) didn’t get on – in fact we were raised to despise one another and think the worst of one another. We even felt a little proud of our ‘good guy’ status, aware that while the IRA were the baddest of the bad, you really just couldn’t trust a Catholic no matter what.

This was the tribally divided world I grew up in. It appeared the tribes were formed around religious convictions, but as I was later to discover this was simply a means to an end – a way of identifying those we were conditioned to hate.

When I retuned to Ireland in 2014 I did some serious historical reading and discovered that the ongoing persecution and marginilisation of the Catholic population by the British / Protestant government was actually at the root of much Catholic anger. I had to acknowledge that ‘my tribe’ had treated these people terribly, so they were angry and the emergence of the IRA seemed like their only way of resisting and protesting. As a result several Protestant paramilitary groups formed (UVF UFF and the like). They met Catholic terrorist activity with their own brand of terror.

Remind me again – who are the ‘good guys’ and who are the ‘bad guys’?…

It’d be easier if the bad guys were all bad and the good guys all good, but of course it’s much messier than that.

I’ve been following the developments in Gaza closely over the last 2 weeks and increasingly it appears that the only ‘good guys’ left are the people forced from their homes and living in fear of their lives. Even if Hamas had the best interests of the Palestinian people at heart (which is very hard to imagine) their actions in Israel can only be condemned. There is no excuse, or valid reason for the slaughter of innocent civilians. It was a cowardly, but also provocative act. And while it hurt Israel, the rebound effect on their own people is now exponentially worse.

Much like the British government’s oppression of the Irish Catholics, the Israeli Government have created what some have described as an ‘open air prison’ in Palestine. So there is anger and unrest. There is seething rage at lives being wasted and recently that rage was expressed in extreme violence. It doesn’t validate it or excuse it, but it does give it a context.

Angry oppressed people seeking to bring some normality back to their lives respond in rage and hurt their oppressor.

And it did hurt. It still hurts for the Israeli people. Every day their family members are held hostage is another day when they haven’t come home alive. Every ‘forward’ step by the Israeli army may come at the cost of a hostage’s life.

And of course in the midst of this thousands of Palestinian people – already pushed to the edge – are now homeless and have lost everything.

Whatever Hamaas were thinking on Oct 7, it wasn’t concerned with the safety and lives of its own people. Whatever Israel are thinking, it is clear that even if they continue on the path they are on and succeed in completely erasing all sign of Hamas, it will only be a matter of time before a new resistance leadership emerges in search of justice and freedom.

I have been reading one news article regularly as it appears – the Gaza Diary, the ponderings of Ziad, a 35 year old Palestinian man who had been moving from home to home, just trying to find shelter, food and water in the middle of the madness. There are now 14 entries and if you want an insight into daily life for a Palestinian person in the middle of this then it will give you context. It’s bizarre to even contemplate the terror of living in that country at this time.

And as each day passes the legitimacy of Israel’s actions are increasingly under scrutiny. It seems that within the country there is anger at the amount of lives lost and from the perspective of an onlooker, Israel would appear to be responding way above and beyond what would be considered ‘fair play’ in a war situation. The casualty rate has been enormous (9000 +) with the vast majority innocents.

Even so the calls for peace and a ceasefire are being ignored, as Netinyahu seeks to act ‘strongly’ and without any concession. Whether their mission (the complete elimination of Hamas) is even achievable is debatable, but the sheer cost in human life to get there seems to be lost on the Israeli PM. He has commited the ‘strong-man’ position so it’s hard to imagine him backing down.

No one would deny Israel legitimate anger and rage at the barbaric way Hamas dealt with their people, but it seems that blunt force is not the best tool for this situation. Besides the risk of hurting hostages who may be used as human shields, there is also the cost of Israeli military lives – young men and women literally in ‘kill or be killed’ scenarios – with now 23 dead.

And then there is the the question of who else may choose to stick their oar in and the consequences of that. Lebanon, Iran and more specifically, Hezbollah have already spoken up and of course there is the US and associated allies supporting Israel. We (Australia) notionally support Israel, but I sense the word ‘support’ is being stretched well beyond its breaking point at this moment.

How anyone can endorse the degree of damage being inflicted on both people and infrastructure is beyond me. There’s ‘necessary evil’ and then there is simply evil that is not done out of necessity but out of a desire for ‘extreme revenge’.

My prayer is that someone can talk sense into Netinyahu. so that the troops are called off and a peaceful resolution is found. It’s an ambitious hope because Netinyahu has clearly stated his intent to wipe our Hamas completely – whatever it takes.

Is there a ‘third way’ that can take away the revenge drive and replace it with a restoration intent? I imagine there is, but it may now appear politically weak to pursue that path. It may be off the table for the Israeli leaders, but it is probably the only way to find peace and some semblance of friendly interaction.

So – we pray – for those directly impacted – hostages, Gaza residents/transients, we pray for the military to reconsider their actions and for the leaders of our world to act peacefully and wisely. And when i say ‘pray’, its not a euphemism for hope – it’s an actual choice to pray each day for cool heads and wise spirits to win the day. Someone suggested to me yesterday that prayer was not enough – but I am convinced it’s our best tool in the craziness. It’s calling for the spiritual power of a good God to be present and overpower the evil that is running amok at present.

Whatever side of politics you sit on – whatever your beliefs about where this conflict began – the immediate prayer is for a ceasefire and longer term for peace and healing to take place in such a divided land.