The devotion of a parent toward their newborn child is one of the most inspiring things I witness as a pediatrician. One’s own needs are put second, and the needs of this vulnerable infant are paramount. In feeding a child every two to three hours, day after day after day, washing endless clothes while they sleep, and worrying about whether we are meeting their basic needs, exhaustion (physical and emotional) frequently ensues. Many patients’ parents tell me, “I had no idea how tiring this job is. I love my new baby, I’ve never been happier, but I’m exhausted.”
The devotion of adolescents toward their responsibilities is equally inspiring. And yet they, too, share stories of exhaustion. One individual, whose homework and activities translated into around five hours of sleep each night, commented, “Everyone tells us to work hard, but no one tells us how hard is hard enough…”
Given the prevalence of exhaustion, and the desperation that it can cause, the role of moderation and community are worth considering.
In those times where we each find ourselves exhausted, the challenge is to somewhere, somehow, find the energy to persevere. The cause is worthwhile, but our human capacity has limits. We may start by seeking strength from within, but with true exhaustion, we are too empty to continue; we just don’t have the energy.
It is in these times of complete exhaustion where we may have no choice but to rely on the inspiration of our community and environment. The beauty of a sunset, the calm of the rain, the laughter of a child, the joy of a song, the empathy of a friend, the random smile of a stranger. When we don’t have the energy to make it from day to day, and when we have no choice but to rely on our surroundings, we may feel vulnerable for the first time, but we may also feel a unique sense of gratitude for the first time. When our gas tank is empty, when our strength of spirit needs to feel the contagious power of a smile, we understand that the loving support of our community can fill up our gas tank, and energize our fortitude to continue our ambitious trek.
I saw a four-year-old in my clinic recently, and the second I opened the door, I was greeted by an enthusiastic smile. I spent most of the visit finding ways to keep this young child smiling and laughing. At the end I said, “Do me a favor, you’ve got the most beautiful smile. Please continue to share it with the world as often as you can; you never know who is going to need it.” I certainly hope that when this young child reaches his adolescent and young adult years, years that can too often feel overwhelming, that the next wave of youth has a ready smile waiting for him, reciprocating the generosity he shared so freely.
When I witness the selfless energy of a new parent, and the courageous pursuits of an adolescent, I am moved by the strength they dedicate to their cause. And when I see the loving support of grandparents, the understanding words of a teacher, the empathy of a peer, I know that I’m witnessing the infinite quality of compassion that strengthens our community, pulls us through our exhaustion, and leaves us expressing pure gratitude for the love of our family, friends, and community.
Dr. David Reuter is a pediatrician in the Allegro Pediatrics Bothell location.