The rain fell in continuous sheets that week, as it had for most of the summer and early autumn. Every day I checked the weather report, wondering if this would be the first year we would walk in the rain at the annual JDRF Walk to Cure Diabetes. But Walk Day arrived, and with it, a miraculous parting of the clouds, and the first glimmer of sunshine we had seen in weeks.
They gathered around us that brisk fall morning to walk with us, shoulder to shoulder, as they had many times before. These are our dear ones. Our friends for life. Not the ones born into your family, but the ones you choose to share life with.
This is our tribe.
We raised our families together, watching our children grow from T-ball and pee-wee soccer, to college and life beyond our familial nests. We too have grown up together, a little older, a little wiser, and certainly a little shorter than our once young children.
They chose to walk with us out of their love for us, and for our son, Austin, who has lived courageously with type 1 diabetes (T1D) since he was five years old. Walking with us demonstrates more than their willingness to rise early on a Sunday morning, navigating the suburban train line while the coffee kicks in. It is a reflection of their love for us, and their solidarity with our quest for a cure for our son.
These are the friends who said no to the limits placed on my son because of his chronic condition. They chose instead to say yes to learning more than they ever imagined about T1D. Before long, their homes were stocked with juice boxes and mini snack pouches in case of low blood sugar episodes. They learned to recognize the signs of high and low blood sugars and created an environment where my son was comfortable in seeking assistance when needed.
These friends refused to let my son live those early years of T1D in isolation. Their “teach me” spirit allowed my son to have normal play dates, without a hovering mother sitting in the next room. Ultimately, it was in these homes where my son had his only childhood sleepovers, under the watchful care of surrogate mothers.
My friends gave my son the gift of restored childhood freedom when so much of his freedom had been taken away. But they also gave me a gift—the gift of hope. They instilled confidence in me that my son would be able to navigate the wider world; first by welcoming him into their homes, and then by showing me he was stronger than I knew.
Along the way we spoke of many things, as old friends do. We spoke of the swiftness of time and how it could be that the boys who once united us around the kindergarten classroom were now seniors in college. We shared our now-adult children’s dreams for the future and our delight in who they were becoming.
As we continued our walk along Martin Luther King Drive, passing the rowers on the Schuylkill River, it struck me that the stories we shared could have just as easily been told quite differently. Our conversations could have taken on any flavor that day. When you’re with good friends, it’s just as easy to voice your grumbles and complaints, as it is to share your joys and victories.
This day, of all days, I could have withheld my thanks for the advancements in T1D research and grumbled over my impatience for a cure. Instead, I shared my hope for a world without T1D and thanked my friends for the impact they have made in improving my son’s quality of life and ultimately in curing this disease.
My friends expressed gratitude for steady work, and a season of minimal travel, where once that wasn’t a sure thing. A friend spoke of the challenges of incarceration, not with words of pessimism but optimism, leading us to ponder what we could do to help those affected. Another friend is counting down the days until her son returns from Afghanistan. Her heart refuses to give space to fear; she chooses to embrace hope instead.
The hope I witnessed in my friends’ stories that day is the same hope they have always maintained throughout their lives. It is the very hope they instilled in me when they created a way for my son to enjoy a slightly more normal childhood.
This world, with all its uncertainty and chaos, will always give us ample opportunity to embrace fear and despair, but in every dark situation, hope waits in the shadows.
The words we allow to pass our lips really do matter. They are a reflection of the deepest places in our hearts. When chosen well, they can be a soothing balm to one in need. They carry the power to rescue a friend from a dark place, or to leave him there without a lifeline.
Holding onto hope is a choice we must make every day.
I pause in gratitude to my friends, who have once again shown me an important truth—when we nurture hope in our own lives, we can be hope to a world in need.