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The Wall (revisited)

This post is a classic. It never loses its relevance. I hope you enjoy it.

27 years ago I learned an invaluable lesson about living well with my diabetes. It happened in a most unusual way. It has remained with me ever since.

I was working as Medical Director at the Texas Lions Camp for Children with Diabetes. One afternoon I was covering camper activities at the high element ropes course. There was a new 75-foot climbing wall that the campers would attempt to scale. When they reached the top they would ring a small victory bell.

After all the campers had their turn to climb up the adult staff were offered a chance to participate. I was very eager to do it.

But each attempt I made to scale the wall seemed futile. I'd get no more than 10 to 20 feet up and fall off. Time and time again I failed. Quickly, I became frustrated. Excuses began to flow from my mouth. I said there was no way I can do this. I was heavier than the kids. Too old. Weak. Just about any other lame reason or excuse I could conjure up was said. It was a major whine.

The young man who oversaw the activity witnessed my frustration (His name was Todd). He said to me "Dr. Steve, let me show you how to do it".

Todd had only one arm. He lost his left arm above the elbow to bone cancer when he was very young. I watched dumbfounded as Todd scaled the entire wall in a matter of seconds: using both legs and ONE arm. With a feeling of combined awe, embarrassment and deep humility, a warm feeling suddenly came over me. A true epiphany.

I learned a life lesson which has carried me forward to this very day: that while I can always find something to complain about, make excuses for, rationalize away, or simply dislike, the only thing that truly limits me is attitude and belief in my own abilities. You see, Todd was different…but hardly abnormal. In fact, he accepted no limitations and placed none on himself. I thought to myself that I wanted to be like that guy, not limited by my differences.

Such an incredible lesson I learned one sunny afternoon at diabetes camp in 1991. Type 1 diabetes may make me and many other people 'different', but we should never look at ourselves as abnormal. And most of all, never use our differences as excuses for the things we wish to do or accomplish for ourselves or others. Many of the barriers we place before us are of our own creation. Ironically, I tore down a wall as I scaled another one.

After watching Todd scale the wall, I made the trek to the top and rang the bell. He not only showed me the proper technique, but most importantly, the proper attitude. I often reflect on that day.

I respect everyone’s right to be unhappy, complain, or just simply be mad about whatever angers them. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But as I’ve said so many times, life with diabetes is all about choices, and I CHOOSE to look at my condition differently. Todd made a similar choice about his life and I learned from his example.

In the natural world, I should have died after March 1, 1966, the date of my diabetes diagnosis. I am kept alive and relatively healthy each day by artificial means (injected insulin, meters, sensor, etc.…) and my wits. That’s a gift I choose to not complain about. Every day of my “second life” has been a gift. I consider each day I awaken on this Earth with equal thanks and gratitude.

Some of you may wonder why most of my FB posts about diabetes are usually positive and empowering. Now you know why. I have shared this story before with campers. Many could relate, and some just listened politely. We can learn valuable lessons about living well with diabetes or any other life challenge in some of the most unlikely of places or situations. This is one example.

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