My wakeful nights are fewer now that my children are growing older. A recent event reminded me of what I am missing. After a tremendously exciting weekend in another state at a family celebration, my young son and I found that our sleep schedules were no longer in sync.
On the way home, Ben slept in the plane and the car and then was awake in his room from 10:00 p.m. until 3:00 a.m. Meanwhile, I was completely, utterly, absolutely exhausted. My husband joined me in physical oblivion because he had just spent the weekend at home, getting up often throughout the nights with a baby daughter who missed her mother. An old back injury was also troubling Harry and he lay drugged, with ice on his back, in great pain.
It was a thousand and one nights that night. Each time I fell asleep, Ben called for me. He was disturbed, afraid, and insecure after his intense weekend of travelling and meeting new people. I grew grumpier and grumpier, padding through a sleeping household to reassure and calm a wakeful child. I felt alone and adrift, aware that I alone could help the child who called out to me, yet desperately needy myself.
I spent the next day with my eyes open yet with brain cells barely functioning. Although exhausted, I slowly recalled a truth that has helped me to carry on: As I trudged alone through the night hallways, I staggered to a call as old as humankind. That night and every night, mothers and fathers around the world awaken to reassure restless children. That night and every night, grown children arise to calm fitful, aging parents. Those night hours are long and lonely. Our burdens and tired bones are ours alone to bear. There are, however, other people out there who are waking even as we are. There are other people who bear similar burdens—whether it is simply to reassure a child for one night, or to help a dying loved one be at peace, week after week, until the end.
We who rise do so because we choose to do it. It is an intense, physical demand; it is also an honor as ancient as human love. We are part of the circle of families and friends who nurture Life, from its earthly beginning until its earthly conclusion.