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Made Your July 1 Resolutions?

5 minute read
Nancy Gibbs

Maybe the reason we never keep our New Year’s resolutions is that we have the start date wrong. There is little that feels new or resolute about January 1, when the days are short, the trees bare and in much of the country people are wrapped in so many layers that no one can tell if they shed that extra holiday weight or not. Surely there is a better time to turn the leaf, scrub your goals, fix what’s broken.

The Mesopotamians, who invented New Year’s about 4,000 years ago, celebrated in March, after the spring equinox; the Egyptians chose September, which remains a natural candidate, since we never lose the memory of the smell of sharp pencils, the crack of new books. But the end of school feels much more like the true end of the year, far more than that strange week of playing with new gadgets and shopping the after-Christmas sales. Teachers say kids go a little crazy in June (honest teachers admit they do as well), caught in a nasty collision of Separation Anxiety and Threshold Anxiety, as they stand in summer’s doorway, knowing they’re supposed to plunge eagerly through but not sure what will happen in all that open space and fresh air and free time.

It’s a fertile season now, when routines are suspended and evenings are no longer devoted to fashioning the state of Pennsylvania out of Play-Doh. There are extra hours of daylight to spare, which lets grownups imagine we have more free time even if we are working just as hard. So how do we celebrate July 1, the new New Year? Is this the summer I learn to skate? Longer days lend themselves to long talks and long walks and cooking dinner instead of just defrosting it. There’s a tag sale on every corner, a harvest of spring cleaning, as we clear out the attic so we can start over with a whole new generation of exercise machines we won’t use. My husband and I will pick a great book to read aloud to our girls, not because they need it anymore but just because we can.

The habit of making resolutions is itself a paradox: if we had the discipline to keep them, we probably wouldn’t need to make many in the first place. But goals are different, not a heavy chain but a bright challenge, better suited to summer because both are finite. Resolutions are forever–you’re not supposed to gain weight, start smoking or live off your Visa card ever again. Summer goals last only as long as it takes to meet them and then set the next one–run a 6-min. mile, reread all of Jane Austen by Labor Day, master a celestial angel-food cake.

Even the standard repertoire of New Year’s resolutions is easier to obey come July, when the farm stands dare you to keep eating junk and exercise becomes just another word for play. It’s harder to escape when your goals can follow you wherever you go; there are websites that will ping you with reminders to count carbs or keep working on your novel manageyourmuse.com) In fact, the only real obstacle to achieving your summer goals is that setting them makes this season feel too much like the rest of the year, a march down the checklist on schedule when all we really want to do is sleep later and savor the slack built into each day.

But sometimes, as a wise boss told me, we need a change even more than a rest. There has to be a reason why people devote their precious two weeks of repose to sweaty hikes through Mayan ruins or intensive courses in power knitting. It could be that the most refreshing break of all is to think about nothing familiar for a while, go someplace strange and learn something new, forget who you are during the rest of the year. Maybe the perfect summer is one that makes room for both, for accidents and adventures and long drives with no maps and hard work at something we don’t get paid for, except in satisfaction.

This is a season to savor for its many gifts. We have license to run and hide, hold the mail, introspect; but there is something about this year that calls us to do the opposite. If we all go on a retreat, merely peeking at the pageants of the Olympics, the party conventions, it will be with the knowledge of what awaits us when we get back. We’ll need to have recharged because we are living history now, making historic choices. It is not the crisp midwinter, when we have to be serious. But this summer, maybe we should resolve to be. At least, when Labor Day comes around …

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