When I first worked with Les B. we were both Lieutenants serving under the same Brigade Commander in Operation Desert Shield on the Saudi Arabian peninsula of the Persian Gulf. It was a strange and difficult time for both of us and though our paths in the war never crossed, despite our close proximity, I was the beneficiary of his talent and leadership on the many days and nights spent waiting, planning and preparing for combat under the sound and protective construction provided by him and his fellow engineers. When the war ended one of my final acts before redeploying was to see to the thorough and expedient return to the US of several million dollars worth of war-fighting equipment. It was a frustrating, wearying and arduous task, but one fueled by the anticipation that at the end of it I’d be returning home after nine long months in country. When many years later I had the fortune of meeting Les in person, we had both changed from the young, passionate officers we once were to become dedicated, optimistic middle aged family men, each with a unique and pragmatic perspective of the world, but sharing a bond that went far beyond the brotherhood of war. He as the Executive Director of our local chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and I as the father of a newly diagnosed child with type 1 diabetes.
I happened to be introduced to Les because after we came home from the hospital Franca and I, working fervently toward better understanding and caring for our daughter, tried to absorb every piece of information we could about diabetes. We had been told of the JDRF while still in the hospital and within a day or two of coming home had received our Bag of Hope. I then contacted our local chapter about volunteering. One of Les’ staff recognized our shared military history and forwarded my name to him. Then Les reached out to me. We met, we told stories and bragged in the way veterans will do. We talked about friends and challenges, old and new, and we talked about my writing and how I might be of some help in their pursuit of funding and finding a cure. Afterwards I went home, feeling strong, feeling invigorated, feeling part of a unit again, and feeling also the spirited burden of responsibility that carried back to those days of war, because this was a kind of war too and all wars are hell no matter the opponent and for my daughter’s sake, by God, I wanted a part of it.
Les warned me though. Ours is a volunteer army, he suggested, which I took to mean that help is there one day, gone the next. Life gets in the way. It happens with everyone. It will happen with me. But Les took it one step further: Imagine everyone touched by diabetes who is wanting to be involved, but think of them each as a single cell trying to fulfill a role, all for the greater good of the organism. If the cells communicate, everything works smoothly, it is their connectivity and combined energy and effort that makes the organism’s existence and achievements even possible. If that connection fails, disorder follows. Out of disorder comes disenchantment, and eventually disengagement. Those who wanted so badly to make a difference disappear. The energy they brought goes too and though the organism may still achieve great things, an important function of it is lost.
Diabetes is an awful, invisible enemy. We can write about it. We can think about it. We can quietly carry on with our lives and deal with it. What we can’t do, what no one can do alone, is defeat it. It will take work and money and when we think we have done enough work and spent enough money it will probably take even more. It will take sacrifice and building communities of individuals driven by this one compelling goal to form a lattice work of support, encouragement, and energy. Good things will come of it, Les assures me of that. It may not be a cure, it may not even have to do with improved technologically advanced treatments, but sometimes a community, like a couple of old soldiers found out, is about just a little bit more than its achievements.
There are others out there who need you. You, need you to be out there too, sharing in the support, becoming actively involved in the mission, raising awareness, holding hands, crying together, knowing you are not alone. A computer, a blog, other online communities are a great way to get started and spread hope and discover the many wonderful voices going through the same thing you are, but the true strength of a community is not in what they read, or what they say, or even in what they do, it is that they stand together, hand in hand, arm in arm, toe to toe, ready, willing and able.
To make a donation toward finding a cure, please go to JDRF Donations.