Last week, while taking a late-summer walk in my neighborhood park, I noticed the sidewalk ahead of me etched like an Easter egg in gaudy pastels.
With colored chalk in shades of purple, pink and powder blue, someone had scribbled resolutions for personal improvement across the pavement. The varied handwriting told me that this had been a group affair.
Most of the resolutions dealt with athletic goals — pledges to complete a certain race within a certain time. “Finish strong,” one writer had resolved. “Run a complete 5K,” another declared. In big blue letters, there was this, too: “Run half a mile with good coaching.” One message scrawled in foot-high print expressed the hope of mere survival: “Finish the 1st half alive!”
“Finish season without crying,” someone else had promised. My favorite resolution: “Get back in shape. (Not round.)”
The sidewalk art looked like the handiwork of a running club that glides down my street on weekends. Standing at the foot of the driveway in my bathrobe as I collect the morning paper, I see the runners pass in tight formation, like migrating mallards aimed at the far distance.
The runners’ energy seems so effortless, so intuitive, that I never thought to consider how much they’re challenged to put one foot in front of the other.
Yet here, chalked across the sidewalk at the edge of the park, was a reminder that the resolve of the runners isn’t inevitable. They’re struggling, like the rest of us mortals, to talk themselves into the discipline required for a better self.
The words on the sidewalk resonated with me because I’m trying to get in better shape, too. After a summer of mostly slacking from daily exercise, I’m walking again every morning. Sitting in the exam room during a recent medical check-up, I could hear my doctor prescribing the same thing to everyone. “Keep moving,” he urged each patient as he weaved down the hall. “It’s the best thing you can do.”
And so I walk, leaving the house on most mornings at daybreak, before the sun starts to singe the city into submission. The interlude of coolness will lengthen as autumn comes, a windfall for strollers who’ve spent the summer trying to outsmart the thermometer.
Finding resolutions on a sidewalk at the start of September reminded me that I don’t have to wait until New Year’s to set goals. I can, as my children do when they begin a school year, also seek out some fresh version of myself at the front door of fall.
Within a couple of days, hard afternoon rains had washed all the writing from the park sidewalk.
Maybe my best intentions will fade just as easily. But in the meantime, I’m rising early each morning, lacing my sneakers, and trying to finish strong.
Danny Heitman is on Twitter @Danny_Heitman.