Just One Thing

Many of you may not remember this scene from the 1991 movie City Slickers:

Or maybe you do. Jack Palance’s, character, Curly, tells Billy Crystal’s character that the “secret of life is just one thing.”  To which Billy Crystal replies, ‘That’s great. but what’s the one thing?”  Curly answers, “That’s what you’ve got to figure out.” This week I figured out what my one thing is.

It was the end of the school day at Cicero Elementary School. Bus number 186 was called over the P.A. system, meaning I could leave the classroom, retrieve my coat from my cubby and head outside to find my bus in line. Eight year old Phil gathered my papers and books, pushing them sloppily into an already overstuffed desk. I hurried a little extra because I was thirsty from playing outside in the sunshine during end of day recess and I wanted to get a quick slurp of refreshing water from the fountain in the hall before I left.  I rushed to my cubby outside the room, grabbed my coat and put my orange and black Baltimore Orioles Little League baseball cap on my head. It was probably a little crooked, it always was. I just didn’t have the knack of centering the brim over my face unless I was looking in a mirror. I didn’t care though. I was still at an age where I hadn’t yet learned that I should be self-conscious about how I was put together. That was something boys didn’t think too much about until they noticed girls.

I didn’t know it, but the next moment was the one that changed my life. I turned from my cubby and fought my way across the hall, dodging and weaving through other students flowing through the hallway like a swift moving river of four foot tall humanity. After successfully navigating the obstacle course I reached my destination. The hallway water fountain.


Doesn’t that bubbling, gurgling water look refreshing? I thought so too, so much so that I leaned in for a drink a little too quickly. See that curved piece of metal above the bubbling water? I leaned over, perhaps slightly hurried and slightly distracted by the crush of students passing by and thoughts of my waiting bus, and as I did so one of my center front teeth hit that curved metal piece. Not hard, but hard enough that about one quarter of a tooth broke off cleanly and completely. One drink. One quarter of one tooth. One life changed forever.

Yes, I know it sounds insignificant, but we rarely realize the long term ripple effect of small moments when they happen. That one moment those many years ago helped me realize just how lucky I am.

On Thursday of this week, two days ago, decades after I broke that tooth, , I visited the dentist because of that tooth. Complications related to that one simple moment have probably required me to have, literally, about 100 additional dental appointments over the years.  There have been countless procedures, needles, poking, prodding, and pain. Today I thought to myself that if I had one chance to turn back time and change one moment in my life, that moment when I broke my tooth might be what I’d choose.

When I started writing this I thought to myself, considering what others have endured, if my biggest problem in life has been a broken tooth that would plague me for the rest of my days then I’ve been pretty damn lucky. Then I thought to myself that I wouldn’t go back in time and stop stupid eight year old me from bumping my tooth, because from today going forward it will always remind me how lucky I’ve been so far. Weirdly, I think that the next time I’m in a dental chair because of this tooth, I’ll probably smile. Because of the dental work on the tooth it may never be a perfect smile, but it will be a grateful one.

So what’s your one moment? Your “one thing”? What would you change if you could? Or what life lesson did you learn from that one moment in time?

As always, if you enjoyed #ThePhilFactor, please share it by hitting the Facebook, Twitter or re-blog buttons below. Have a great weekend! ~Phil

24 responses to “Just One Thing

  1. Wow! Now that is really thought provoking! I must think about this.
    Hmmm . . .

  2. The text that I sent by mistake
    Was received by my boss
    The time I backed up way too quick
    That money that I lost
    Those stupid words that just slipped out
    Things posted on the net
    The time I spend during my life
    Worrying bout regrets.

  3. When I was quite young (single digits) I went looking for my Christmas presents. I was thrilled when after a great deal of searching I found them. I was very proud of myself until Christmas morning. I did my best not to show my disappointment. The excitement was gone. I never tried to ruin the surprise again. I learned to relish the anticipation and allow others the joy of surprising me. I also never forgot how I felt all those years ago.

  4. Wow. I don’t know. But it’s good you’ve got your one thing down pat.

  5. What does it say about me that I can’t think of anything!

  6. A deep and philosophical start to my day.

    I have so many deep and dark secrets that I’ve buried away. I think it’s just better if I leave them there 😉

    • You with deep, dark secrets? I just don’t see it. I think that we all think we have deep, dark secrets, but most of the time we’re all worried about the same stupid stuff that wouldn’t seem like a big deal to anyone we told. I bet that we all have our things we’re embarrassed our ashamed about, but if we told someone else they’d be like, “Really? That’s it? That’s what you were stressing about? That’s nothing! You wouldn’t believe what I did…”

  7. Phil, I went to Cicero Elementary with you. I wish I had known you were trying to get a drink that day. I would’ve helped hold the crowd back. 🙂

  8. Great post! Will have to think about my ‘one thing.’

    My 2 favourite words in this post was ‘Baltimore Orioles’- have you been to Camden yards-its pretty great.


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  11. Ha how bloody irritating for you, but as you said it’s not the worst thing. I can TOTALLY empathise though. I had the same thing with my front tooth (not with a water fountain, but with someone’s fist. Long story. Not as dramatic as it sounds). I STILL get pain with it & have had numerous dental appointments over the years because of it. I can’t bite into apples or hard biscuits with it (cookies to you). Still it’s a nice little reminder I’m still alive. I guess.

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