At the airport two weeks ago, I was coming home from Washington and my flight to Rhode Island was delayed. The wait in the cramped US Airways terminal was long and oddly warm for October, giving people a certain irritated twitch. I was still dressed from my meeting, with a dress and tights and boots and not enough real estate in the dress itself to hide my insulin pump so eff the bullshit, I clipped my pump to the top of my boots. (Like this.) It felt comfortable and somewhat discreet. A nice change of pace.
The other people on my flight and I kept close to the gate, watching the delay extend and hearing sighs from fellow travelers. There was a thick tension to the air, one that even the smell from the Dunkin Donuts kiosk couldn’t cut through.
And then suddenly a fight broke out between these two random ladies, one of whom was heavily pregnant. There was excitement and a scuffle and lots of “Oh no you did NOT” and the response of “But I DID.” Security showed up around the same time as our plane, which added to the chaos.
“This was unexpected,” the man next to me said, shaking his head.
“Almost makes the plane delay tolerable,” I agreed.
He looked at me and then his eyes traveled to the top of my boot.
“Is that an insulin pump?” he asked, with a look on his face that indicated he knew exactly what it was.
And as I said, “Yes,” I realized that I meet people touched by diabetes everywhere. In coffee shops, at Disney World, on planes, going through TSA, and now, watching a pregnant lady and another lady try to punch one another in the face while waiting for my delayed plane. People with diabetes are everywhere, and I am lucky to find a lot of them.
… that, and it probably helps catalyze conversation, keeping my medical device clipped to my shoe.
“My daughter has type 1 diabetes,” he said. “She was diagnosed when she was nine. She’s 18 now and at college. Volleyball player,” he added proudly.
“No kidding? I’ve had it for 29 years, diagnosed when I was seven.”
“Yeah? Wow, 29 years.” He looked impressed, as if I had mentioned an ability to build functional spaceships out of pasta noodles instead of an inability to produce my own insulin. “And you’re okay?”
I shrugged, thinking about the difficult last few months. But I was okay. I’d be okay.
“I’m not picking fights with pregnant people at the airport, so I’d say I’m pretty okay.”
He looked at me with those hourglass eyes that parents of children with diabetes often have, visibly fast-forwarding his own daughter’s life another two decades, wondering what her life would be like when she had lived with diabetes for almost thirty years.
“That’s a plus,” he said.
And all at once, I wanted to give him a run-down of my life, telling him everything that I had still done and would still do, despite or because of diabetes. I wanted to show him pictures of my daughter. I wanted tell him about how Chris takes care of me without smothering me. I wanted to tell him how my mom and I are immeasurably close through diabetes. I wanted to tell him it would be okay and his kid would be okay.
And then I wanted him to tell me I would be okay, and that the people I love who have diabetes would also be okay.
The gate attendants called for people to start boarding our flight. We shook hands and did the “Nice to meet you; good luck with everything” send off.
But there was a moment that hung between us, one of understanding and connection that only people who really understand this life can share. He knew my life and I knew his, to a certain extent, yet we’d walk away from the conversation without sharing our names. Which, strangeness aside, was really comforting.