Last night I asked my husband what I should write about next for the blog. “If you don’t tell me what to write,” I said, “I’m going to talk about teeth.” He looked horrified and gave me a few topic suggestions. And here I am writing about teeth anyway.
I’ve been trying really hard not to whine about my dental problems too much, which is hard, because I feel this pressing need to whine. Seven months and counting, and right this minute I have a not insignificant toothache from the same tooth that’s been causing the problems all along. I’ve been through two root canals, an onlay, two permanent crowns, and three or four temporary crowns for this one tooth, not to mention gum surgery, several courses of antibiotics and steroids, and countess bite adjustments. It still hurts. And now a new filling on the opposite side of my mouth has decided to act up and hate on anything cold. Eating has become an interesting exercise since I now have two bum teeth on opposite sides of my mouth.
I can question the competence of my dentists all I want, but ultimately they just really really want to save this tooth. They care about saving the tooth more than they care about the pain it is causing me or the subsequent deterioration of my quality of life. My tooth is, after all, irreplaceable; no prosthesis will be as good as the real thing.
It occurs to me as I obsess about my mouth that this is a more universal problem. How do we decide when it’s time to let go of something? I think it’s probably about time for an extraction of my tooth, but without 100% support from the dental establishment, I have hesitated for several months now. I’m kicking myself because maybe all this pain could have ended last December. But how do I decide when it’s time to give up on the tooth?
How do we decide when to give up on anything? What is it that tips us over the edge into deciding a marriage just isn’t going to work? What motivates us to change careers? What is the key information we need to make the call that a business relationship isn’t working out or a person is just never going to treat us respectfully? How do we make the call that “enough is enough” and that something has got to change?
I have a lot of trouble letting go. My stubbornness is an extremely useful trait in many ways, but it can occasionally be inconvenient. What kills me the most is that so often, we’ll never know for sure. We won’t know what would have happened if we’d made a different choice. Maybe if I’d stuck with that relationship for another month or two, that extra time would have made the difference. That’s the insidious whisper that plays inside my head. Maybe if I try one more dental treatment, I’ll get to keep my original tooth. Maybe if I can persevere at a task for a while longer, it will become more rewarding. Maybe maybe maybe.
Or maybe it’s time to make a hard decision and extract that broken molar from its roots, rip the band aid off the skin, take a stand and say, “This is where I draw the line.” There’s giving up and then there’s embracing change; the line between the two is murky but important, because one feels like defeat while the other one can be liberating. A sad and bracing liberation, to be sure, but I’ll take it over straightforward defeat any day.
So tell me: how do YOU make such decisions? When is giving up the right thing to do?