Community Speaks

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This past Sunday a woman I had never seen or met before, stood in front of our church and moved me. She spoke about the importance of environmental justice. She asked that we be stewards of our planet and protect it from the preventable destruction of climate change and wasteful pollution. But it wasn’t WHAT she said that moved me, it was what she offered – a moment to be mindful – and I took it, and was moved. I was present, in the moment, as she shared the sighs and tears and exuberance over what she loves – the earth.

Now, I don’t litter and I try to recycle as much as I can, but I can’t say I think about the earth on a daily basis. Yet hearing the passion in this woman’s voice inspired me to be more mindful about my relationship with my planet and the other life (outside of my own) that it supports. As I left church, I wondered:

What other amazing people might live in my community and have inspiring stories that can enhance my life?

Health, at its essence, is a communal notion. It involves the way we care for ourselves and  those around us. It relies on the spaces in which our bodies stretch and move and feel their power and the places where our minds think and learn and grow. But isn’t it curious that many of the spaces and places that define our health, are filled with other people – often silently going about their life, with their joys and fears and hopes and lessons hidden quietly beneath their public persona – beneath even who they allow themselves to look like on Facebook.

Ultimately, I think, health is the result of engaging the world around us and being present to both the vital resources like clean water, clean air, and nutritious food that keeps us alive and the social connections that fuel our emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual wellness.

What if we could learn about the other people who share our public spaces?

The older Korean woman who owns my local corner store…

The Spanish-speaking family who lives next door…

The 40-year-old white man who sits in the sandwich shop behind my house every day for lunch…

What are their stories? Who do they care about? What are their life lessons?

If health happens in community, then maybe when we engage those around us and are present, we can heal as we learn from each other.

I want to start right here!

In the next few months, I’m going to start posting pieces written by people I know and some I don’t, sharing thoughts, lessons, and stories about what they love and what they’ve learned. For this project I will define community as people who want to share together and include posts from friends, mentors, acquaintances, and strangers from however far my blog reaches. If you want to participate in this project, comment on this post and I’ll email you!

Ultimately, I’d like to host a Community Speaks session where people actually physically gather to be present and hear others’ stories and hopefully we can create a live feed on my blog to share the moment.

So, what do you think? If your community speaks, will you listen?

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Raising Resilence

One of my goals as a physician and particularly as a pediatrician is to touch young lives and make them better. Health is not just about check ups and sports physicals and vaccines (although all of those are important components of healthy living). Health is about embodying a spirit of wellness and adopting a lifestyle that nurtures that spirit. This is part of what drew me to medicine – the opportunity to look into the face of our youth and encourage their spirit; to see the potential rising in children and partner with families and communities to protect that potential and mold young lives around healthy concepts of living and growing. For me, this goal is personal and professional.

This past week, I completed a project where I hung old photos of my family and dearest friends around the head of my bed. I did it so that when I dream, when I think of all the possibilities of what life holds for me, I am surrounded by the faces of people who love me and support me and whose encouragement lifts me up.

I think James Baldwin said it best when he said, “Your crown has been bought and paid for. All you have to do is put it on your head.”

What an important and wonderful concept to internalize. The idea that –

You are valuable and you cannot escape that value because it is already yours by virtue of the work and sacrifices of the people who have gone before you – be they family, community, or historical ancestors.

This principle reminds of why those faces now hang above my bed; they create a space where I am free to acknowledge my personal worth and the people whose love, time, support, and prayer softens the ground below my daily steps.

As a professional who works in the art of healing, this lesson from my personal life also finds meaning in my professional life.

As a pediatrician, I know there are vulnerable periods in a child’s life when physical, emotional, financial, and social stress can impair mental and physical development. Some refer to that stress as “toxic stress,” because when chronically exposed to it, the physiology of children’s bodies and brains are changed – down to their very genes – in a way that places them at risk for a number of poor health outcomes over the course of their lifetime AND passes that risk on to their progeny (Have you ever wondered why poverty can be generational?). If I know that stress retards growth and development and keeps children from realizing the potential of a full and healthy life, what is my role as a pediatrician in providing children and communities with the tools to build resilience – a psycho-physiologic shield against the adverse effects of stress, or, a potential protector.

Others, have also pondered this and it is becoming more professionally accepted that physicians and pediatricians must be the faces in the community that encourage the spirit of children to protect their value and potential.

So how can pediatrics as a field and I, as a professional, systematically create spaces that recognize and utilize the value of every child; such that children are free to know their potential and build healthy relationships and lifestyles in partnership with the community around them? And how do we as a field, begin to understand how issues of poverty separate children and adolescents from knowing and working towards their value, a value that has been paid for generation after generation?

The short answer is, I don’t know. But I have joined a group of bold pediatricians from across the nation charged to address issues of poverty and toxic stress through medical practice. While part of our work will challenge traditional concepts of the role of physicians in community and increase public awareness of the adverse health effects of poverty, I also hope the outcome of our work directly helps children internalize their value and rise to their potential. Because the longer answer recognizes that poverty does not just create physical barriers to health, but also complicates the path by which children come to know and live out their value in the world. Thus as doctors, as champions of health, we must also be purveyors of justice and defenders of the value and potential in the most vulnerable among us.

If it takes a village to raise a child, what will you do today to embrace your value and the value of those in your community to raise resilience?