The New Year has come, and you know what, no one dreaded its coming. Everyone looked forward to the New Year with expectation, hope, enthusiasm.

Why?

People love new beginnings, new chances, fresh starts. People like to turn the page. They like the idea of starting over. It’s not that we are unhappy with what we have, though for some this is true, but we know it can be better. We can be better, our situation, our life can be better. Often we single out a single thing that will do it. Maybe it’s our weight, or smoking, or reading more books, or taking time to see mother at the nursing home, spending more time with the kids, not being so irritable. We single these things out and say this year, we are going to do more, or do less, or be more disciplined or relaxed in one of these areas.

A lot of people start off too strong on these “resolutions.” They try to conquer the world in a day. A week in and it is just too much, the fail and rather than try again the next day they give up, saying it’s too hard. And that’s probably true, mostly because they set themselves up for failure. Look, I can’t decide one day that I am going to run a four minute mile and go out for a week straight trying. I’ll never do it that way. It seems obvious when I say it like this, but so many people try to stop smoking cold turkey, or try to stop eating ice cream altogether so they can lose fifty pounds. It may work for those extraordinary people, but for most of us, it’s just not reasonable. There is nothing wrong with saying, I’ll only have ice cream four times a month, every Saturday. Now you still get to enjoy that ice cream that you love, and you have something to look forward to at the end of the week if you have been good the rest of the week. More than anything, it’s manageable. Then six months in, you can change that to two times a month and so on.

I am big on beginnings. I love them. I will pick up books in the book store and read just the first page of a hundred books. I buy the ones that had good beginnings. I like to watch people greet each other for the first time, how people start dating, those first reactions and flirtations. I like the first bite of a meal the best. I know, I sound looney. But I know that good beginnings can set a precedent. Start off on a strong foot and somehow it will carry on, last longer, be more effective.

Back in high school I was a pretty good cross country runner. My senior year came and I was constantly one of the top runners. The League meet, which determined who would be All-League, a nice little honor for any runner, was at a particularly narrow, hilly course. Our coach told us to start out quick because he didn’t want us caught up in a bottleneck after the first hundred yards, stuck in a mess of four hundred runners and never really be able to set our own pace. I took his words to heart and was one of the first fifteen runners after a hundred yards. The first half mile continued at this fast pace and I was running side by side with the states best runners. Some slowed down into their own pace. I loved being at the front though and felt great. But half a mile in, rose the most challenging part of the course, a hill two hundred meters long. I knew I should slow, but all the newspapers had their camera men halfway up the hill, taking pictures of the leaders. I couldn’t slow down, not if I wanted immortal glory. I was in first at that point, an idiot leading the race. Yet, by the time I reached the top of that hill, my lungs were shriveled grapes, my legs and arms lead sinkers, and for the next two and a half miles, one hundred and fifty runners passed me. I didn’t pass a single runner and finished far behind the runners I had been running with all season.

I had started too fast. A week later we had a sectional meet and I determined to run slow at the beginning, and not let a single person pass me. I would however, pass as many as I could. The race started and almost the whole field sprinted past me. I let them. But for the next three miles I passed most of them and had one of the best races of my career, finishing the highest I ever had.

What strikes me the most about New Year’s is that it is just a day, a day that we have given incredible significance to. I am lost in it just as much as the next, shaking my bell and snorting on my kazoo at midnight like the rest of you. I have hopes for the new year. I even write them down, so that by naming them, they become a little more real than if I had kept them in my mind alone. I am also stuck to
them. I can’t change them or take them back.

Some of them I know I am going to fail. It may take only a week for me to fail. It may take three months for me to fail. I may fail for sixty straight days. But I am smart enough to realize that every day can be New Year’s day, every day can be a chance to start again.

© Seth Crossman