Have you ever been in the same room with someone and felt their presence immediately? It’s as if they emit some sort of warmth or energy and it’s infectious. You can’t help but feel enamored and enthralled by nearly everything about them; the way they speak, the way they look, even the way they move and the expressions that flash across their face. Something draws you to them like a magnet. You feel the pull of a kindred spirit, a friend, even though perhaps you have never actually met them before.
I felt exactly this way the night I met Marina.
Back in May, I was invited to New York City to attend the DREAMS in the City event held by the Diabetes Research Foundation. My good friend, Susan Weiner, was being honored with the Dare to Dream award for her commitment to advocacy and involvement in the diabetes community, and her unwavering dedication to always “do more for the cure”. Susan was kind enough to ask me to attend as one of her guests, as I had been helping her with her social media, blog, and content implementation for several months at that point. I don’t know of many other things I have ever been as excited to go to, and traveling to NYC is always a fun adventure! What an honor it was to be a part of Susan’s special night and see her praised for the incredible woman that she is.
Despite deciding to go last minute, and also needing to rush back to Massachusetts the very next morning to watch one of my best friends get married, I hopped on a bus at South Station and made my way to the Big Apple. Being the frugal and not-so-picky twentysomething that I am, I chose the ABSOLUTE cheapest hotel I could find (the results of which were quite comical but thankfully bearable and certainly not the worst I’d ever seen). Rushing to get ready and make it on time to Cipriani’s, I felt frazzled and anxious and even began to wonder, “What the heck am I even doing here?”. This night was going to be faaancy with lots of important folks who are part of the diabetes community, and I was starting to feel a little intimidated and out of place.
Walking in, I felt like I had stepped into an episode of one of the Real Housewives shows my mom watches on Bravo. A server with a silver tray of Peach Bellinis handed me a flute to sip on and someone else on staff took my coat for me. During the cocktail hour, sitting in front of an assortment of things that were to be auctioned off as part of the evening’s efforts to raise money for the DRI, there were tablets ready for people to use to place their bid as far as the eye could see. There were also several tablets on each of the dinner tables that the attendees were encouraged to use to make a monetary donations throughout the rest of the evening as well.
Donation pledges flashed across the big screen on the stage with the name of any person who so generously decided to contribute… $1,000.. $500.. $3,500.. $1,200… these numbers and many more casually gracing us with their large, illuminated presence. I could not believe my eyes. Pretty sure I witnessed nearly $30,000 or so raised in a matter of minutes and even more money as the evening went on. I laughed, jokingly thinking to myself, “These people are throwing thousands at the cure and here I am hoping I have enough money to responsibly afford an Uber back to my hotel.”. I was definitely not in Weymouth anymore. I was so impressed by the overwhelming enthusiasm of all the guests to do what they could to fundraise for such a worthy and important cause, that it literally brought a few tears to my eyes.
Sitting down at my assigned table, I quickly learned that many of the other people sitting with me were also friends and guests of Susan. Thank GOODNESS, but still, I was so nervous! A man about three seats over suddenly looked me dead in the eyes and exclaimed, “Hey! Who are you?”, calling me out in front of the other people at the table. I talked of my connection with Susan and my involvement with the DiabetesSisters. I later would learn from Susan that that man was Tom Karlya, aka The Diabetes Dad and also the current VP of the DRI. I couldn’t believe that I had been silly enough not to recognize him from reading some of his blog posts in the past. It was him briefly including me into the general conversation of the entire table that finally put me a bit more at ease.
I noticed her immediately. As she walked over towards our table, I recognized her from connecting via Facebook a while back. This was the girl with the puppets and the wicked cool haircut, Marina Tsaplina of The Betes Organization! I will whole-heartedly admit that I had a fan girl moment and with butterflies in my tummy, I eventually walked up to her to introduce myself after holding back for a bit, unsure of what I wanted to say. I had been following her posts online and knew of the work she was doing helping to bring the patient experience to life through theater and performance. Combine that with how effortlessly cool she seemed to be, carrying herself with confidence and grace, and I just couldn’t help myself from wanting to be near her the rest of the night.
We swirled around on the dance floor with a few other ladies, entertained by the fantastic live band, and eventually found ourselves stepping outside for a little fresh air. It was there where we had a conversation that I will never forget for the rest of my life. It was simple, just two girls with diabetes sharing their background and experiences, and talking about things that mattered to us. Marina kindly shared with me some personal and intimate aspects of her journey that only made me love her more. This girl was REAL, and she was also clearly a force to be reckoned with. Her nods of approval and utterance of “turning your pain into purpose” as I told her my “story” and of my desired aspirations within the diabetes world, is a moment that I have replayed in my mind every single day since that night. Her encouragement and support flooded my body with the hope that, yes, I was in fact on the right path, and that I have what it takes to really break out of my previous shell and make things happen. Nothing describes the mission that lives within my heart and soul better than those words she spoke to me.
As the night wound down, Marina offered to show me the way to the subway, assuring me that it’d be easy to get back to my hotel if I followed a few simple directions. We walked through the streets, making our way to the underground, and parted ways so that she could return home to Brooklyn. It saddened me to leave her side, wanting just a little more time with such an impressive, beautiful being but I knew that surely it would not be the last time we would meet.
I went to bed that night, alone in my fifth floor walkup hotel room, with a heart full of love and the motivation to get back home and take the next steps towards really making a difference. I credit Marina to being a piece of the puzzle of what lights the fire that exists within me. She stoked my flames that night by opening up and really making me feel a part of the more professional side of the diabetes community. I will continue to look up to and admire her, as her passion for what she does is unique and hard to find. I’m not sure she realized what an impact being with her that night made on me, though surely it’s no secret now. I will live each day trying to take the pain from my past and from my present, and turn it into the purpose of why I’m even here at all. I am so lucky to know the people I do.
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