Elissa Ely: Finding Inspiration Along The 'Chalk Walk'

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(Mark J. Terrill/AP)
(Mark J. Terrill/AP)

The dog doesn’t understand voluntary quarantine. She understands outside air and human companionship. With a six-foot leash between us, we walked to the reservoir.

The path we take every day is paved, and the view of water nearly constant, but a piece of color on the ground caught my eye. Below the Mutt Mitt dispenser, someone had written in red block letters: "Chalk Walk."

A foot or two further, I saw more block letters in orange: "Use Positivity."

A couple of steps later, there were some in aqua: "Share Kindly."

And then, in shades of lavender, green and yellow: "Exercise. Exercise. Exercise."

It was like strolling through a garden of verbs — with a nudge to the physically inert.

"Let us live in health and positivity when possible; let us live in hope when not."

Elissa Ely

Just then, an elderly couple jogged past, very slowly and at the proper distance. I’ve seen them here for years. They come to the reservoir every day, in every season, under every cloudburst. He’s a little weathered and stern-seeming. She’s delicate in pastel track suits. Their sneakers always look fresh.

Years ago, when I walked here with my first dog, they ran past us. Their pace was vigorous, their postures impressive. Four dogs later, her braid is white, and they move at more of a stroll, though their knees still rise up.

They were stepping directly on the chalk walk.

I saw his foot come down on a hot pink square: "Health," it said. He set down on "Hope" in lilac, and then, in navy, "Enjoy" — which, honestly, seems too much to ask under the circumstances. One of her sneakers lightly brushed "Make Community" in burnt sienna, swept aside a twig and hopped over "Balance" in fuscia.

They rounded a bend and disappeared. By then, the words themselves had grown farther apart, the chalk fainter. Really, there’s only so much advice to give in dire times.

Yet it seemed to me that they had already taken these suggestions decades ago. Let us live in health and positivity when possible; let us live in hope when not.

Exercise, exercise, exercise ... at the proper distances.

All this has helped us before. All this will help us again.

Elissa Ely is a psychiatrist.

This segment aired on April 4, 2020.

Headshot of Elissa Ely

Elissa Ely Creator of WBUR's The Remembrance Project
Elissa Ely is a community psychiatrist in Massachusetts and the creator of WBUR's The Remembrance Project.



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