ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It started on New Year’s Day when people started scrawling messages in chalk on the sidewalks at Altura Park in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights.
Up and down the block, in different pastel colors and in different writing styles, these affirmations of hope and good wishes for the new year sprang up. The message that likely started it all says: “How will you be kind this year?”
“Choose joy,” one reads in response.
“Complain less,” reads another.
“Listen, even if you may disagree.”
“Enjoy every minute.”
And so on.
Dr. Kurt Nolte, who lives in the neighborhood, said he spotted the inscriptions while taking a walk two days into 2020.
“My wife told me that the inscriptions were written on New Year’s Day by adults
and children who were encouraging passers-by to join in,” he said. “It’s a wonderful concept.”
Other neighbors say they’ve seen messages written here before. A small plastic container of colored chalk is always attached to the doggie waste station for people to leave their sidewalk sayings.
“The neighborhood really enjoys the chalked comments as they’re so upbeat and positive,” said Robert Jackson, president of the Altura Park Neighborhood Association. “I have no idea who leaves these messages, but they show up on
occasion and always give me a good feeling.”
Perhaps it is not surprising that these messages appear at Altura Park, a 7-acre triangular swath of open greenery lined with more than 70 stately Siberian elms that even in winter provide a woodsy canopy rarely seen in Albuquerque.
Here, Cooper’s hawks and yellow-rumped warblers nest in the trees. Dogs on leashes sniff the grass. Fitbit users clock 1,050 steps every time they circle the park. Soccer games are won and lost, as are tennis, the courts a curious requirement by the benefactors of the land to the city.
It’s a green and peaceful oasis in our high desert city, bounded by Hannett on the
north, Aspen on the south and Morningside on the west.
It’s the Morningside side where the chalked inscriptions are found.
“Hate does not encourage harmony,” a message reads.
“Realize you are fine, good and important.”
“The mountains are watching – make them proud.”
There’s even a kind word for the pets: “Cute doggies walk here.”
Far from the park, it has been such an uneasy time of ranting rather than conversing. Our rhetoric has become harsh and inflexible and incendiary. In Australia, the world burns. In America, our words burn.
I’ve noticed that we say we “hate” more. As the sidewalk saying states, it does not encourage harmony.
We exhaust ourselves arguing over everything from Iran to impeachment. Our country feels as if it is in a state of constant crisis. We cannot even agree on what is real and what is fake news.
On social media, a tweet can start a fight and nearly began a war. I have seen the rancor there rise and the polarization deepen, and I have, I must admit, been too much a part of that.
Like many of you, I spent much of the new year battling a cold that left me too sick to work but not sick enough to keep from engaging in online debates that no one wins. I truly think the arguing prolonged my illness – which is sick.
So on a day when my health returned just enough and January temperatures warmed just enough, I took a walk in Altura Park to read the sidewalk sayings.
For a moment, it was easy to forget the heated words elsewhere, the missiles and the madness, and it was lovely just to imagine that, on the first day of a brand new year, there were people who thought it was a nice thing to share their best wishes to anyone willing to read them.
That, I think, was a kindness.
How will I be kind this year? There are some good suggestions in these sidewalk sayings.
And so we lurch on into 2020, a year that promises more acrimony and even less common ground. I suspect it will be no walk in the park.
But maybe taking a walk in a park like this can help us get through it.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.