I remember two kinds of glucose tablets from my teenage years. One reminded me of horse pills — huge, rectangular white blocks that were individually packaged the same way allergy pills are: clear plastic cap on one side, and a thin, tinfoil-like sheet on the other that could be pushed in to free the horse-pill-sized glucose tablet. These always seemed monumentally impractical to me — cumbersome to carry, too much packaging, and too much work to pry open when I felt low.
The other option was small, round tablets that came in a plastic tube (10 per tube). They were much easier in almost every way. Except…the top to the tube was so easily removed that I almost always ended up with a bunch of loose glucose tablets floating around in the bottom of my pocket, mixing with lint, loose gum wrappers, and whatever else migrated it’s way there. The top would come off if you sneezed too hard, and all 10 of those little round tablets would come pouring out!
Well, a certain drugstore (who I’ll hit up for an endorsement deal if this blog takes off, but for now must remain nameless) has FINALLY answered my prayers. Yes, they have a tube with a top that ACTUALLY STAYS ON! Gone is the flimsy plastic top of my childhood, replaced with a stronger top that fits on nice and snug. When I saw it in the store, I practically started dancing. I was ecstatic, not over the glucose tablets themselves, but the plastic tube the glucose tablets came in!
How could something so mundane and boring get me this excited? Well, when you live with something like diabetes every single day for 18 years, these little things REALLY start to matter. As humans, we have a habit of thinking in big terms — what am I going to do for my career, will I find true love, will the Cubs EVER manage to win another World Series, and so on. But life is in the details. John Lennon summed it up with a great quote, “life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.” The future is only in our imagination, the past is only in our memory. The only thing we really have any direct say in is the present moment.
As anyone who’s read this blog before knows, I tend toward the contemplative when thinking about diabetes. Sometimes, perhaps I go a bit overboard. But here the practical and contemplative come together. A well-known Zen teacher once wrote, “when doing the dishes, do the dishes.” In other words, stop thinking big — stop thinking about profound “enlightened” things, goals, dreams, fears, hopes, legacies, and your whole imagined future. Think small, live in the moment, take care of what’s in front of you. That’s life. That’s all it’s ever been, that’s all it ever will be.
Diabetes is full of small things which, when summed up together, have a huge impact. No single postmeal blood glucose reading is going to determine whether or not we have complications. No single shot will do it. No single “cheat” snack will do it. Each of these is a little thing and by itself means very little.
But a lifetime of little things, strung together, is the “life” John Lennon was talking about. We think big, make our plans, chart our courses. But in the end, it’s the little things that make up our life, and it’s the little things that ultimately decide where we end up. As people living with diabetes, we are, in a strange way, somewhat lucky; while many people in this world can afford to live a life devoid of attention to the moment, we are forced to attend to it. And that forced practice is a wonderful one, full of lessons, wisdom, and serenity.
It’s also one full of joy. A monk once visited the college where my mother taught for 21 years. He was walking to a class when he saw a flower growing near the sidewalk. He asked my mother, “why is it Americans don’t see the flower?” My mother was puzzled, and asked him what he meant. He told her, “when I look at the flower, I think aha, a flower — how beautiful. I look away. I turn back, and again I see flower and think aha, a flower — how beautiful.” His mind was clear, devoted only to the moment. While most of us would be too caught up in our own “big thoughts” to notice the flower even once, this man could meet the flower with fresh eyes and fresh joy each time he saw it.
So, what brings me joy today? Glucose tablet containers. My wife. Comfortable shoes. My cats. The opportunity to play music. The fact that I recently found a toolbox in which all of my instrument cables and keyboard pedals will fit. Smaller blood gluocose meters. The opportunity to write. The “big stuff,” the “little stuff,” it’s all the same. It’s life.
As always, I invite readers to share, comment, and exchange ideas. My personal invitation to all of you is to share what brings you joy. The smaller the better.