It was summer break and I was working from home, and there wasn’t a moment to myself. So I decided to start walking at the only time I had available: 5:30 AM.
My husband was supportive but we are married long enough that I could read his face. You? Exercise? At 5:30 AM? This will last maybe three days.
Aside from the week before my sister’s wedding, I have never exercised. I don’t have the patience to walk or bike endlessly to nowhere on a machine, and while I love walking, the thought of taking my four kids along with me while they complained their feet hurt was hardly appealing. Or real exercise.
And 5:30 AM? I am a proclaimed night person who has often complained that the world is prejudiced towards early risers and should have a second track night people.
Yet here I was committing to be an early-rising exerciser. I could hardly blame his skepticism.
The first week it was hard to get up so early. But I quickly fell in love with early morning walks. The quiet, the twinkling stars turning to the beauty of sunrise as the day was born anew. It was time to think, to reflect on my life. Were the small things I did each day really helping me towards my overall life goals? Or was each small decision made for convenience sake and not working towards the direction I wanted to go? It was time to plan out my day, time to get ahead that I’d never had before. I quickly embraced my new routine. Throughout that summer, I walked through the sweltering Charleston heat, enjoying every moment.
But there were challenges ahead. Would I be able to keep it up once school started?
Indeed, working all day after waking up so early was a challenge. There was one day I took a five minute nap on the floor of my office from sheer exhaustion. I thought about giving up. Was it right to take on this commitment if I couldn’t give my all to my job? But I plowed through. I adjusted.
Sunrise became later. I was walking in pitch dark. I read stories of female joggers being killed. I was scared. Should I stop? I wondered. I found the 911 emergency button on my iPhone and when I was scared, I kept my finger on that button, ready to press. I persevered.
Then came the High Holidays. If Rosh Hashanah is like tax season for a rabbi, it’s almost busier for the rebbetzin. In addition to the break-out classes I would be giving at synagogue, it’s also the busiest time for entertaining guests. I am not a domestic person and I always find it a struggle to cook, much less find time for so much cooking while planning holiday activities at school. How would I fit in an hour walk every day? And find time to walk on the holidays?
Somehow, I found the time. And the thinking time enabled me to create a plan for self-improvement which is crucial during the High Holy days.
On mornings when I felt like giving up, I would watch the man who walks around the lake, about halfway into my walk. He walks on prosthetic legs, taking one shaky step at a time. If he could do it, I told myself, so could I.
I walked through rain. I walked through blisters on my feet. Through the frustration when the weight just wasn’t coming off. Through vacations when I was off schedule and in unfamiliar terrain. I walked through a bad cold.
This morning, I walked in below freezing weather. Me with the thin blood of an 85 year old who complains about the cold every winter, even though I live in the South where temperatures don’t get even close to New York weather.
Next week, it will be six months since I started.
I never thought I’d make it this far. I’ve never been so proud of myself.
And I’ve learned an important lesson. Our Sages teach us: Nothing stands before a strong will. And it makes me wonder: what else have I been holding myself back from because I've told myself "I can't do it"?