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All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth. I may or may not get that. Either way, I’ve already received an early gift that could easily trump having all my own teeth.

In the last (I hope) of a series of calamities that seem like an organized plot to keep me humble, I took a bite of trail mix last week and heard something pop. I felt certain my front left tooth was cracked. After a few days of worry, I scheduled a visit to the dentist—an 80-mile road trip to Terre Haute, Indiana, where I went to college. In other words, I’m 140 minutes away from the first serious mistakes I made as a young adult.

Normally, those memories crowd my brain just twice a year when I see the hygienist. The prospect of losing a tooth gave me a bonus trip down memory lane this week, when Dr. Jennings worked me into his schedule. I arrived at his office early, took off my coat and, for the first time, absorbed the gravity of my situation. Who would I be without one of my front teeth? Why me? Why now? Could I withstand the pain? How would I feel when I looked into a mirror and saw a gap? Horror!

Lost in these tragic thoughts, I barely noticed what was going on around me until they called the next patient. I looked up in time to see an elderly couple shuffling toward the dental assistant. The wife was a petite woman with a chiseled, resolute face I recognized instantly. Eva Kor.

Old mistakes die hard

Thirty-four years ago, Eva hired me to do some PR work. At the time, I was a college sophomore and Eva was a Holocaust survivor who was laying the groundwork for what eventually became a Holocaust museum in Terre Haute. I don’t remember the nature of what she hired me to do. What I do remember is this: I did not do the work.

Oh, I was elated when my faculty advisor connected me with a bona fide chance to practice PR in real life. But soon afterwards, I panicked. Two semesters into my core PR studies, I should have had a clue about what Eva needed. Sadly, I did not. Did I contact my faculty advisor for help? Did I ask Eva for further guidance? No. I did what college students still do when they get in over their heads. I disappeared. If you knew anything about Eva, you’d know that she was not a woman to be trifled with, but that’s exactly what I did.

While Eva and her husband were seeing the dentist, I reviewed those events, which are not as distant as you might imagine. Consciously or unconsciously, I remember them almost every time I face a difficult project. For the past three decades, I’ve consistently overworked, over-researched and over-compensated, hoping to correct old mistakes like that one. Eventually, I learned to buckle down. I became a hard worker and a decent writer, but I never completely shrugged off that early failure.

When the Kors came out of the office and filed past me to grab their coats and pay their bill, I realized I had a sliver of time to make things right. “Excuse me,” I said. “Are you Eva Kor?”

“Yes, I am,” she answered.

In my next post, I’ll recap my two-minute conversation with Eva Kor and tell you about the museum she founded.

Do you ever feel like God puts you in the right place at just the right time?

Life is short. Wear the good stuff.