The bad part about being diabetic is, like any terminal illness, the constant increased risk of death. But the bright side is the constant increased awareness of death. Everyone is going to die at some point, but few of us are actively aware of it. At times I've forgotten, but in general, since I was five years old, I've had an active awareness of death.
Earlier today I decided to take advantage of the nice weather to take my bike down to the gas station on the corner and use the free compressed air to fill up the tires. As soon as I got outside I realized the weather wasn't quite as nice as it looked, but by then I'd already committed to the project, so I foolishly continued. The gas station is about four blocks away, down a hill.
The front tire on my bike was too deflated to ride on, so I walked down the hill. I ran the pump three times as I struggled to position the nozzle in such a way that it would actually pump the air into the tire and marveled at how complicated such a seemingly simple task could be. Then I started to ride back home, at which point I realized my chain and front brakes were both detached. So I fixed those and realized the front tire was still too deflated. So I ran the pump yet again, and then started riding back home.
What I could have reasonably determined was too cold to ride became much too cold with the wind chill as I rode. My breathing became strained as I went back up the hill. After a four block ride, I arrived back home exhausted. I sat down on the couch and rested for a while. I was more tired than I should have been, I figured because I've long been less active than I should have been. I thought I might take a nap, but then I thought I should probably check my blood sugar first.
Oops. Jessica's at work today, so I could have easily gone to sleep for a nap and never woken up. I don't mean to be melodramatic here — much the opposite. The first time something like that happens, it's scary. I'm sure it still scares people who know me. But after it happens a couple dozen times, you get used to it. Death isn't so scary after a while.
You can see this in people who live in areas of poverty and/or war. They see death all the time, and they get used to it. Their friends and family die, and they go on living. For those of us who don't see death all the time, this is a familiarity we'd rather not have. We want to live forever and have everyone we know live forever also.
But it doesn't work that way. Reality refuses to cooperate with our illusions. Death happens. We don't need to celebrate it, but I think we need to get over it. We need to stop pretending that death is an aberration from the norm and realize that death is the norm. Death is a vital part of life.
Last year Steve Jobs gave the commencement speech at Stanford. In his speech, he said:
Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important thing I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life, because almost everything--all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure--these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
That's the nice part about being diabetic. I don't have to try so hard to remember what's important because I have a little machine that tells me three times a day how close I am to death. I just need to act on what's important. They haven't made a machine for that yet.