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The first scientific theory that really intrigued me was the endosymbiotic theory. I don’t know if I think it’s true or not but I think it’s a fascinating idea. It goes like this: many years ago, all life is single celled organisms, like bacteria. At some point in history, a bacterium brought another kind of bacterium into its cell. You now have one bacterium living inside another bacterium.

So what’s the benefit? One of them provides safety for the other by keeping it away from the outside environment. And the other provides energy. Over time, the bacterium brought inside becomes a mitochondrion, the place where many cells make energy. Mitochondria are noteworthy in that they have their own genes that are completely separate from the rest of an organism’s genes. Cells that were able to make energy like this evolved into complex organisms, like humans.

Evolution is an amazing thing but it comes at a cost. Both bacteria eventually lost their ability to survive on their own. One cell needed the extra energy and the other needed protection from the environment. Both of these cells lost their individual traits in the progression toward something larger. They became trapped.

I have been actively involved in the mast cell community for several years. I have been very involved for about three years. I will never forget the feeling I got when I realized that these people understood what it was like to live in a body ravaged by this disease. I will never forget the first people who made me feel welcome and valued in this community.

In the last few years, I have laid bare my secret pains and fears to a bunch of people I had never met and might never meet. These people carried me through some of the hardest days of my life. They listened to me scream and cry and forgave me when I was an asshole and tried to soothe me when I was desperate to not feel like this and not live in this broken body anymore.

Whether or not we want to be, the people in this community are all connected. We share a common fate. These relationships are laced with primal and fierce emotion because they could be over in an instant. When you are very sick, and you have friends who are very sick, you live in a world where death is an ever present threat. You learn to not be surprised but you can’t learn to not hurt. The pain is the same, every time.

Caring about people and their struggles is not optional. We are too much the same. When the worst happens and one of us dies, it is impossible not to feel your own mortality on top of the sadness of losing someone who is too much like us. You remember the kinship and the shared suffering and a mutual understanding that all of this sucks but we can still have good days and good lives.

The people in this community have become a larger, living thing, bigger than our individual selves. We are bound together by the smoke and dark magic of these diseases and the lives we make despite them. We have evolved to become more powerful and dependent upon each other at once.