All I ever needed to know I learned in 7th grade

The_Giving_TreeWhen I was in seventh grade, my English teacher structured an entire lesson around the children’s book The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. Though the topic of the book is not without controversy (people draw parallels to an ungrateful child who keeps taking from a parent who enables the greedy behavior), this lesson was a little different. And it’s a lesson that has stuck with me to this very day. If you’re not familiar with the book, you should either go get a copy (now!!), or be warned that I’m about to reveal the ending. Not that knowing the ending of this book will ruin it or anything, but still — SPOILER ALERT!!

The story is about the interactions between a boy and a tree. At the beginning of the book, when the boy was a young child, he would play on the tree: climb it, swing from it, and eat its apples. Then the boy’s priorities changed. His visits became more and more infrequent, and when he did, greed had taken over. What follows are a few quotes from the boy in subsequent pages:

  • “I want some money. Can you give me some money?”
  • “I want a house… can you give me a house?”
  • “I want a boat…”

The tree generously offered its apples to sell for money, its branches with which to build a house, and its trunk to carve a boat, until there was nothing left to offer the boy when he visited for the final time.

  • “I don’t need very much now…just a quiet place to sit and rest.”

Now, back to that lesson. Read those for quotes again, this time taking notice of the words I’ve emphasized:

  • “I want some money. Can you give me some money?”
  • “I want a house… can you give me a house?”
  • “I want a boat…”
  • “I don’t need very much now…just a quiet place to sit and rest.”

Mrs. Hartman taught the class the difference between wants and needs, and we learned how easy it is to confuse the two. But after she taught it, my priorities in life became a bit more defined. I learned not to fret the wants in life, as long as the needs were taken care of.

It’s something I still think about every day. Perhaps it’s a reason I’ve got such a nonchalant attitude towards things when they don’t go my way – with diabetes or just with life in general.

But separating wants from needs when you’re 13 years old is easy. As we get older, the difference gets a bit more murky. Maybe a lot more murky.

For instance, my nice house on a hill is definitely a want. I could get by living in a small apartment; all I really need is shelter (and a place to keep my insulin cool). But since I do have the house on the hill (a want) and since my family is living in it, I do need for it to be safe. I need to know that the floorboards won’t suddenly buckle and the crib upstairs won’t plummet to the basement. Did the guys who designed it and build it do so with integrity, or did they take shortcuts to get the job done quickly and cheaply? If I am, quite literally, betting on my family’s life that the structure is safe. So, although I indulged in a want (the house), that created a need (for it to be safe).

D365/Day 11

Image from Flickr user saradawnjohnson

Lots of old-time PWD’s (myself included, sometimes) wax poetic over the way things used to be. We injected insulin with old-school syringes. Perhaps they were glass and were reused. We used Regular insulin, and also a long-acting variety: maybe NPH or Lente.  We estimated our blood glucose by comparing the yellow and blue color blocks to the ones labeled “180” and “240” on the vial, sometimes indecisively picking a number in between.

And it worked. Many in the diabetes community recently met a celebrity, of sorts, who got by quite well for many years with these seemingly archaic methods. There are many others who have succeeded in the “old-school” treatment, at least for a part of their diabetic lives.

Which brings us to today. A diabetes era filled with insulin pumps and fast (and really-fast) acting insulin. Five-second glucose measurements and continuous glucose monitoring.

Do we need all of this stuff? Do we truly need it? I suppose if we’re trying to make it from today to tomorrow, we don’t. Plenty of people have done well without it. But if our sights are set farther than the coming days, weeks, or even months, it sure helps.

Back to my house analogy.

We may not truly need it. But if we have it — and we’re putting the lives of ourselves and our loved ones at stake — we damn sure need it to work properly.

What pisses me off, to no end, is how some manufacturers are proving that their stuff works, that they are meeting the required criteria — but once they get the stamp-of-approval, they start taking shortcuts (not this kind of shortcut; I’m talking about the kind that unknowingly puts an unfathomable number of people with diabetes at risk). I’m talking about this. And this.

What we need is a way to ensure that manufacturers act with honesty and integrity.

Diabetes has given me a thick skin, and I can tolerate lots of adversity. But what I can’t tolerate – what is completely unconscionable – is being lied to. Those who deem the dollar mightier than the life.

We need accountability.

Demand it.


This post is my July entry in the DSMA Blog Carnival. If you’d like to participate too, you can get all of the information at

Posted on July 30, 2013, in Diabetes, Personal and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Poignant post – nice comparisons. Love it!


  2. I NEED my son with t1 to live a long and healthy … I argue that is a need not a want … And for him to do that he needs good diabetes management tools … And you are right on! … We NEED to demand it!


  3. Thanks for helping to spread the word, Scott.


  4. I think this might be one of my favorite “Strip Safely” posts. A great analogy between the house and the test strips. As I was reading it, I was thinking I do NEED the insulin pump and 5 second test strips for my sanity 😛 but then I go to the point of your post. I love the tie-in with the Giving Tree book. Thanks Scott!



Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s