The only significance that today can hold is that in which I choose to give it. Eleven years ago today, I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Blindsided at my pediatrician’s office during my fifteen-year-old physical, that particular day serves as a significant transition in my life. It is the day I went from being the Sarah I always thought I was, to someone entirely different.
Being diagnosed felt like a dream. Driving to Boston from my doctor’s office, I thought they must be mistaken! Surely, the results would come back as a big misunderstanding or a false positive. It didn’t seem possible to be sitting in a chair, waiting to be called into a room and told that for the rest of my life, I’d be living with an illness I knew little to nothing about. The things I did know were terrifying, like tales of blindness and extremity amputation, but, I never could have understood back then how much more frightening all of the unknown would be.
The years I spent lost are hard to look back on. Part of me longs to get back all that wasted time and energy, which is a sentiment I know a lot of others, chronic disease or not, can relate to. How could I have let myself down like that? Where was the strength I now feel when faced with the challenges that come my way? I have long since reconciled with the fact that the majority of my teen years, leading into my early twenties, were spent in misery. I did the best I could with what I had and who I was, but physical and mental anguish plagued me, and there were countless opportunities lost as well as proverbial doors slammed in my face. Yet, without everything that I experienced, I would not have become the person that I am now. I am a collection of all that has gone wrong, all that has gone right, and all that I have learned.
This morning, when I got to work, I put on the latest episode of the Duncan Trussell Family Hour podcast. Both a comedian and an intellectual, Duncan is arguably one of my favorite human beings ever to exist, and his talks on both his own podcast, as well as others (like the Joe Rogan Experience) are certainly worth listening to. The DTFH episode that I put on featured David Nichtern, a celebrated songwriter, composer, and Buddhist teacher. Both he and Duncan had just returned from a retreat centering around Buddhist teachings. One of the parts of this episode that I enjoyed most was a poem shared at the retreat by one of the teachers, Jack Kornfield. Entitled “Kindness” and wrritten in 1952 by Naimi Shihab Nye, it truly resonated with me and how I feel about the path I have taken thus far in my short 26 years here on Earth.
by Naimi ShihabNye
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
These days, I am glad that I can recognize within myself that I am more at peace with the things that have gone wrong in my life, diabetes and otherwise. Things I once believed were mistakes, things that held me back or delayed my growth, have proven themselves to be useful on my journey. Life is a wonderful teacher if you can find the lesson you’re supposed to be learning. I felt everything I thought I had going for me slip through my fingers the day I was diagnosed. My expectations for what my future would be were instantly shattered by upon hearing the words “You have Type 1 diabetes”. I am thankful that I have realized that with the death of your old life, comes the opportunity to regroup, rebuild, and become a better you than you ever could have imagined.
I am a firm believer that if you have the same problems over and over again, it is the universe’s sometimes not-so-gentle nudge towards telling you that THIS is the puzzle that you need to solve. When we open up our hearts and our minds, the potential to better ourselves is there, even when you think you’re in the deepest, darkest forest of a mess that you’ve ever been in. The perspective gained after sorrow, tragedy, or devastation is a valuable commodity that, although delivered with a price, can serve you well and provide you with the raw materials to take who you are as a being to the next level.
The hardships in my life have changed me. I know that without a doubt. But it is I that have chosen to decide HOW they will change me. There was a point where I understood a degree of sadness surrounding myself, and I was able to see the sadness of others around me as well. It is overwhelmingly evident that the effort to spread kindness and love towards others, is the only path in which I wish to take. I have found my way out of the dark before and now I am here to help and guide others along the way.