The Sweet Honey of Failure: Diabetes Edition

Amylia Grace Yeaman Health Guide
  • Last night as I was sleeping

    I dreamt—marvelous error!—

    that I had a beehive

    here inside my heart.

    And the golden bees

    were making white combs

    and sweet honey

    from my old failures.


    -Anthony Machado, “Last Night as I Was Sleeping”


    Sweetness and honey:  two words that might elevate bloodsugars of diabetics everywhere just by imagining them. Yet I love this poem and these lines in particular. Because even though the old failures are there (and always will be), there’s comfort there, too. 


    Machado’s bees remind me that this is how we learn. We learn to change not by getting it right all the time, but by getting it wrong. More often than not, we learn what to do by learning what not to do (reason enough to read this and other SharePosts). Of course, I can’t help but look at Machado’s poem through the eyes of a diabetic…a diabetic who has gotten it wrong as many times as she’s gotten it right.

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    Life as a diabetic isn’t easy. Type 1 diabetes demands a level of accuracy and vigilance I have always judged myself harshly for failing to meet in the ways I’d like to. In ways I need to. It saddens me to acknowledge that, but it’s the truth.


    When remembering the vulnerability and shakiness of last night’s low (bloodsugar), the image of sweet honey being spun in order help me survive helps. Comforts. Saves. But the line between the necessity of sweetness and carbs in my most frightening hypoglycemic moments and the damage and drain of them when consumed in excess or in moments of weak resolve is a tricky one. It’s a score to be settled each time I eat or don’t eat. Each time I exercise or fail to exercise. Each time I dose my insulin correctly or don’t.


    When it comes to diabetes, perfection isn’t possible and progress is the name of the game. We learn what needs tweeking and where we're doing right. We learn how to be stronger by surviving and acknowledging our weaknesses. Our lows. Our highs. It’s not too hard to do when parts of you are broken and there’s no getting around it.


    So I like how the sweetness and honey Machado speaks of in his poem can embolden us to look for where past mistakes and “failures” offer up opportunities that our successes can't. Like it or not, our failures often change us. Change our hearts. Some hearts they limit.  Others they strengthen.  Mine, they have softened.


    I’m not a very “Pollyanna-ish” person, and would rather look at and face reality than avoid it, but I also know enough to know that how we perceive our lives, our diabetes, our experiences matter. A lot. The filter through which we choose to see the world and our place in it informs every experience, past or present. Heck, I’ve watched enough Dr. Phil to know that it isn’t so much what happens to us that matters—it’s how we think about what happens to us that is important. 


    I like thinking about the ways my diabetes has given me opportunites I'd not have otherwise. I know for a fact it's helped me become a stronger, wiser person. It reminds me of the fragility of life, but also helps me make the most of the time I've got.


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    And so what if imagining the sweetness that comes from transforming our mistakes and perceived failures (whether in diabetes management or in our professional and personal lives), our out of range A1C’s or extra weight around the middle from shame and embarrassment into something much more useful and essential than that necessitates a little embellishment and wiggle room?


    I’m not talking about letting ourselves off the hook or giving up on doing our best. I’m talking about softening a little. Loving ourselves and others not despite weaknesses and imperfections, but because of them. Remembering that beehive inside our hearts is helping us help ourselves. Helping us be our own light.


    So here’s the good news and the bad. As Roger Housden puts it, the heart, like the grape, is prone to delivering its harvest in the same moment that it appears to be crushed. The beehive in your heart is humming precisely because of those failures.








    *If you enjoyed this poem/post, check out Ten Poems to Change My Life by Roger Housden, the impetus for this post.

Published On: September 26, 2012