What Defines Our Community?
What defines our diabetes community?
At the Smithsonian, there is an exhibit called "Portraiture Now: Communities." It's described with the following (edited) language:
"How do we define community today? Through new electronic networking, our connections with family, friends and acquaintances are increasingly widespread. And yet, we are still drawn to the idea of small communities and face-to-face interaction. Each of the three painters selected for “Portraiture Now: Communities” has explored this idea through a series of related portraits of friends, townspeople, or families. ... Seen together, the paintings by these three artists suggest the enduring power of personal communities."
I can't remember how I stumbled upon this exhibit, but the idea of it really moved me. "Community" used to be defined by who lived in your zip code, or who went to your school district, or just what faces passed you in the hallway at work every day. Back when I was a little peanut, my community was my family (there are a lot of us), my school friends, and my fellow tap dancers from Miss Jeanne's dance class.
Since second grade, I've always been part of the diabetes community. Back in those days, there weren't many tell-tale tubings sticking out from underneath someone's t-shirt, and kids didn't test as often or as openly in the classroom. But when another child in my school district was diagnosed, an instant bond formed between he and I, and between my parents and his. Even if we hadn't met yet. I had a sparse but crucial community of other Rhode Islander children with diabetes, and when I attended Clara Barton Camp in the summers, my community of "other kids who got it" expanded by leaps and bounds.
But I grew up, and in those foggy years between 9th grade and my first job out of college, I was alone. Alone with diabetes, yet still part of the diabetes community. No one knew I was there, but just hearing someone at school mention "their cousin who has type 1" or "That lady they were waiting on at the restaurant who freaked out when the diet soda was switched - she said she had diabetes," made me feel like I was instantly connected to these imperfect strangers.
And then I found you guys, drawn in by a desire to not feel alone anymore and wanting to share, out loud, the emotional burden of diabetes that I carried for a very long time by myself. A whole community of people who were either living with diabetes themselves, or loving someone who lived with it, and who understood exactly what I meant when I said, "It's just ... ugh, you know?"
What defines our diabetes community? Is it the common thread of syringes and infusion sets and the pile of test strips we leave in our wake? Is it the shared fear of complications? The universal celebration of a lowered A1C? The muttering of "Lows are The Suck," and hearing, "I know what you mean," in return?
I thought about what a "Portraiture" of the diabetes community would look like. I pictured all those photographs so many of us have taken over the last few years, the ones that show a bunch of grinning people with their arms around one another. It's only if you look really closely that you notice the pumps clipped to pants pockets or calloused fingertips.
"Through new electronic networking, our connections with family, friends and acquaintances are increasingly widespread. And yet, we are still drawn to the idea of small communities and face-to-face interaction."
Face-to-face interaction is such a huge part of feeling like a community, but it's not the only thing that makes us one. Whether you want to be part of the diabetes community or whether you are rebelling against the very thought, the fact remains that it's there for you, and will always be there for you. There's a certain comfort to knowing you aren't isolated or alone. There are people who understand.
The definition of our community is found in the people who are part of it. Each and every one of us: the bloggers, the lurkers, the medical professionals who care for us, the parents of kids with diabetes, the kids with diabetes who have grown up to become parents themselves, the lovers, boyfriends, girlfriends, spouses, friends of diabetics, the immediate family members and the ones who are slightly removed, the employers, the employees, the strangers who help us get juice when we can't help ourselves, the friends, Romans, and countrymen of the diabetics ARE the diabetes community.
It's a far-reaching group of people who share more than just a busted pancreas.
It's a true community of people who understand, despite different backgrounds and preferences and opinions. We're in this together, and as I'm preparing to bring my daughter into this community as a "child of a person with diabetes," I'm thankful that she can find support as a caregiver in this sea of people who have been instrumental in helping me achieve the strength to bring her into this world.