Pep talk

Even though it’s easy to think of January as the beginning of the year, in many ways, it’s the middle. Often, January is the month when people’s get up and go gets up and gets gone.

Think about it. Students are starting their third quarter or second semester. Summer seems ages away, and the dark, cold mornings—dragging on yet another sweater after another long, cold night—just seem insurmountable. Hope seems hard to generate.

We felt it with Barack Obama’s second inauguration, too. The last four years were a long slough through a mire of ugly partisanship. How can we stand four more years of party posturing and roadblocks? Obama’s positive inauguration speech just appeared like so much malarky—“Everybody come together”—when that very coming together seemed callow for the last four years and seemed to discard the historic social moment and momentum. Liberals wanted to yank this country to the left in the exact way George W. Bush tore it to the right for the eight years previous—straining its very seams. And it is patently obvious that nearly half the country dreads the next four years because they think Obama took us off track to the left. They see a historical moment that is a radical departure from the America they always knew and from which they derived pride. And the politicians play that tune to their own benefit in an endless loop.

Many of us, three weeks ago, set New Year’s resolutions, and we’re already tired, already disappointed in our progress, already thinking about quitting. Some of us will smoke cigarettes when a few drinks overwhelm our admittedly weak inhibitions—even though we know that their toxic substances contribute to our own untimely deaths. Many of us will make a decision to ignore—just for the morning, just this once—our three-times-a-week commitment to exercise. Some of us will opt for that office doughnut despite our towering triglycerides and bulging waistlines.

Conversations every night with the kids—forget that, but don’t forget to log onto Facebook to send a picture of that cute thing your cat did or your fantastic tomato bisque or your cliché meme.

An evening of volunteering—it’s just so damned easy to put the feet up on the coffee table and forget your finer resolve. Isn’t there work you brought home from the office?

Well, if you’re one of the weak—and who’s not?—we’ve got some news for you. The job isn’t over. If you fail now, if you fall down on the job, now, at this moment when the going is just getting hard, you can expect to die with those things that mattered unresolved.

But you have the capacity for almost infinite effort. As long as you keep putting one foot in front of the other, making good choices—don’t pick up that smoke, do pick up that telephone, don’t eat the doughnut, do walk around the block, don’t log onto Facebook, do talk about your children’s day—you will get stronger. It’s like lifting a weight: The repetition increases the ability. And pretty soon, you’ll have developed a habit of strength, and the impossible is almost likely.

You, this city, this state, and this country all face divisive obstacles in the years ahead. During the last four years, this country has shown itself willing to fight until the last drop of sweat is spilled, but in the next four years, we can expect to have to find a new normal for education, guns, immigration, drone warfare, and the rights and freedoms of individuals.

So get off your ass. We’re a long way from the finish line.