One of the most difficult things for me about being diabetic is the constancy of the disease. Since my diagnosis fifteen years ago, I am at every point and in every context A Diabetic, with the steady drumbeat of carb-counting and blood glucose monitoring as the soundtrack to my life.
From what I have read, this sense of a constant burden is common among those with chronic illnesses or enduring ailments; indeed, there is no rest for the weary. I think this feeling is the one that spurs many diabetics to engage in temporary periods of “diabetic rebellion,” where we say, “I am a diabetic every day, without pause, and I’m tired; today is my birthday, so blood sugars be damned, I’m having my cake and eating it, too!” These rebellions are usually short-lived, and in most cases, according to people’s accounts , there are repercussions in the form of uncontrolled blood sugar, but these pass, and the relief from mental stress and weariness is worth the price paid.
I was thinking at length about this constancy and the common rebellious reaction on Friday evening, as on that night I was so lucky as to experience one of the even shorter-term, but ever-so-much-more-rewarding forms of respite from the sense of constant vigilance over and attendance to diabetes: a single moment, an instant really, of ascendent beauty.
Let me explain: I think of my life as a vector moving through time and space. There are points along this vector that mark the prodigious events of my life– birth, first speech, marriage, and so on– but the path itself is one of continuous motion and awareness, along which I am breathing, eating, living, and, of course, diabetezing. I might zig-zag around in a day of diabetic rebellion, but even then my path is continuous, diabetic and human throughout.
But! But sometimes, like last Friday evening, there are moments. Moments of sensual awareness and beauty so poignant that in that instant, my path is broken, divided. Such instants are hard to define, and they vary with person and mood, but for me they are this: the sun filtered through tree leaves; the noise his scalp makes against my fingers when I play with his hair; the stillness in an empty room as I look out at the city; the sunset over the water passing the car window at a hundred miles an hour; and last Friday, the whine of Joshua Bell’s violin as he played a Bach sonata. In these moments, I am not a single body, moving through time and space, ever-breathing, ever-blinking, ever-monitoring; I am simply sensation, perception standing before beauty. My heart may beat, but I do not hear it.
And so it is for a brief time I am not a body, and I am not a diabetic, and I am not hungry, tired, happy, standing, sitting, anything. I am only present, a witness to beauty in the world, passing through an empty space in the vector of my life. (If you like math: in my mind’s eye, these moments are when x = -1 in the graph of (x + 1)(x + 2)/(x + 1).)
These moments are short indeed, and soon enough my body is reminding me I have to pee or eat or measure my blood sugar. Nonetheless, that instant, that sliver of respite from the constancy of human being is refreshing. And I sit back. And I say, Dear God that is beautiful. Weak words– but how else can I describe this disembodiment, this ascendence? I say ascendence here, not transcendence, with design: transcending my self or my diabetes is akin to a period of diabetic rebellion, in which I leave my body and feign for a while that I have a different body, an unbroken body. Ascendence implies to me a movement upwards, beyond any sort of body, into sense and sensation. (If you like French: this is similar to the idea of La Petit Mort— the moment of orgasm when the body is so happy it cannot think to want anything, and in this lack of want, is no longer really a living, breathing body.)
Why these moments? What about the sunlight of the music affects me so? I’m not sure; I’ve tried to analyze and taxonomize these ascendent instants, but I have not succeeded. Often light, specifically soft light reflected, plays a role, as do shiny and pretty things; but that is just me guessing. And last Friday, why music? I enjoy music, to be sure, but I am no musician and know very little about classical music. I suspect, though, that part of the trick of these moments is that they cannot be analyzed or duplicated, as they are by their very definition moments that must lack analysis and perspective, and must remain naked of thought.
What is all this to say? Well, for starters, I had a lovely Friday evening. But more importantly, we all need moments of respite, and diabetic rebellion can be dangerous. Better to watch for ascendent moments, and in that remember that the world is beautiful, life is beautiful, tiny moments good and full of glory.