As 2012 comes to a close, I find myself deeply shaken with the tremendous level of ongoing violence in our country. It seems another shooting is in the news every day. There have been several SINCE the Newtown tragedy, and there were several that came before, including the horrendous shooting spree in a mall in Oregon and the theater massacre in Colorado. It can become so overwhelming that we almost become numb to it.
What can we do in the face of this kind of violence? And where is it coming from? What is causing so many people to disregard the humanity of their fellow human beings and act out with such cruelty?
In all of these tragedies, we find people unable to face the pain in their lives. Each of these shooters were disturbed people, driven to unspeakable acts by pain they could no longer bear. They were isolated, they were overwhelmed. And they had lost any measure of grace in their ability to confront the challenges that pushed them to the edge.
If we take a step back and look at the world of 2012, the politics of 2012, the economy of 2012, we see the same. We see the loss of jobs, the loss of faith in the future, the loss of any semblance of civil dialogue among our politicians, and the withdrawal into viciously divided opposing parties. We see uncertainty in the future, a looming fiscal crisis, and a complete inability to come together to face these challenges. Compromise has become the dirtiest word in politics.
I see a country that cannot face pain. I see a divided country that has devolved into fear, anxiety, stress, and paranoia. And those people who 20 years ago might have only fantasized about the kind of violence we now see are now crossing the threshold into action. But to condemn the individuals without understanding ourselves will lead us nowhere. We need to understand that we, as a people and as a nation, must learn to face pain and uncertainty with grace.
As people with diabetes, we have been practicing this skill all of our lives. We have been practicing, on a daily basis, how to confront pain and uncertainty with grace. It is easy to focus on the negatives of diabetes, on the weaknesses, on the limitations. But living with this condition has also offered us gifts, and this ability to face pain is one of them.
Living with diabetes means living with the good numbers and the bad. It means living with the reality that our bodies can fail us at any time. It means living with the knowledge that our lifespans are going to be a little shorter than they would otherwise be. For many, it means living with the physical and emotional pain of complications. It means facing pain, facing fear, and facing uncertainty, and choosing to live our lives anyway.
My own story isn’t all that remarkable. As people with diabetes, we’ve all had to face some degree of pain, fear and uncertainty, but I haven’t faced nearly what others have. And so I want to share the story of a fellow Diabetian who exemplified the kind of grace I’m talking about.
When I was a teenager, I got my prescriptions filled at the pharmacy in our local grocery store. We would drop off whatever prescription we needed, shop, and pick it up after we got our groceries. The pharmacist there was a middle-aged man with a severe limp, chronic pain, and neuropathy in his hands and feet. He was always friendly, always kind to us, and he would always ask me how well I was taking care of myself. Over the years, a kind of light friendship developed through these little two-minute conversations, as he kept tabs on me to make sure I was taking proper care of myself.
He shared with me that he was living with severe complications from diabetes. He had developed Type 1 diabetes as a child, and when he was an adolescent, he rebelled. He ignored his condition for years, and by the time he outgrew his rebellion, it was too late. Knowing full well that his own future was no longer one filled with the hope of recovery and long life, he decided to become a pharmacist in order that he might be a positive influence to others facing the same challenge.
I’m now 34 years old, and the man in this story has long since passed away. His life was cut short by this disease. He faced so much pain and uncertainty, but he never lived a life of fear. He never lived a life of blaming others, or blaming the world. He lived a life of service. He faced his pain with courage; he faced his pain with grace. He was not a sickly man struggling to scrape by; he was one of the wisest teachers to cross my path.
After Newtown, the country has once again fallen into dispute and distrust. The opposing voices are once again entrenched and unwilling to hear ANY of what the other side has to say. We have experienced a great pain, and we are responding with more fear. We need to learn, as a people, how to face suffering with grace. We need to learn what I learned from this man so many years ago.
Facing pain with grace is what we Diabetians do; not because we want pain in our lives, but because we have learned that it’s the only real way to live with suffering. And now it’s time for all people in this great country to learn this lesson. Suffering will never go away; uncertainty will never go away; pain will never go away; but that doesn’t mean we need to live in fear. We need to call on the “better angels of our nature,” as Lincoln said so many years ago. We need to live with grace.