In March 2007, at age 57, suddenly and without prior symptoms, I came down with type 1 diabetes (insulin dependent) . I was healthy, trim and fit. Then this! I lost 34 pounds in 4 weeks and had no energy. I was tired and depressed all the time. It was awful.
For a new diabetic there is a lot to experience and get over. Hard to explain. To a diabetic, I can say, “Hey, y'know what I'm saying?” and they'd say, “Oh yeah!” and we might do our secret diabetic handshake. For a non-diabetic, forget it. It's like trying to read a Sumerian document in the original cuneiform.
So I want to tell you a little story but I need to give you a two paragraph introduction first. Please bear with me.
Being a type 1 means your metabolism is on manual operation. No more automatic transmission. No cruise control. It is all stick shift and clutch, buddy boy. You watch your carbs, you figure how much insulin you need to apply so that your body will uptake the carbs you eat, you watch your blood sugar like the oil gauge in a car that smokes.
In the beginning, the hit to your system is like a rock in a pond, the waves cause ripples and cross waves and the whole surface is rocking. And with it goes your emotional state. It does calm down, eventually, but it takes months and discipline, much longer if you let it get to you. You are in this alone. You may be blessed with a lot of people who care about you, but it isn't happening to them and there is no comparable experience.
Eight months after my diagnosis, I was in the Do It Center hardware store near my house buying something, I forget what. I was up at the checkout counter waiting for my credit card to be processed and I notice this dusty pad of cards off to the side of the counter. They were one dollar pledges for “Tour De Cure” but the word “diabetes” caught my eye and I picked one up and blew the dust off it. Some kind of bike ride to raise money for diabetes. Stuck off to the side, gathering dust. I noticed that the ride was coming up at the end of the month and I sighed to myself and thought, ahh, what the heck, I'll do it for myself and others like me but it doesn't look like anyone's really interested. I handed five cards and money to the checkout girl.
And she said.
Sorry for the dust.
We've been renovating the store.
And she stuck a bit of tape on the bright yellow cards and walked over to the big glass front window on the store.
And she climbed a ladder and found a free space near the top of the glass for my cards. There was a sea of squares, each one a pledge, silhouetted by the bright sun bursting through the spaces between them.
All these people thought diabetes should be eliminated too! I figured most of these folks didn't know what it was like to be a diabetic but maybe knew someone who had it. I was stunned. It's not like I think people are generally bad or indifferent but I wasn't ready for it-- all those pledges!
The girl came back to the counter and said, “my grandmother had diabetes. It sucks.”
I looked at her but my mouth didn't work. Big, tough guy that I am. I opened my mouth but burst into tears, then manfully tried to suppress a sob by compressing my face into something that must have looked absolutely frightening to a child. I gathered up my credit card and bag and simply nodded to her and left.
It came to me that compassion was the willful act of reaching into places where people carry a lonely burden. It is letting them know that their situation is understood. It is action. It is the power of organized resolve, involving many people, to improve conditions beyond the ability of the individual. It is humankind at its best and it is society at its most basic.
I cried because the dam around me broke.