Promises to Keep

The family gathered for their traditional Easter dinner, an event that included several branches of the family tree.  The table, really two tables shoved together in the living room to accommodate the entire crew, had been loaded with provision a mere half hour before, but was showing signs of depletion as the diners pushed back in their chairs.  Offers of dessert were met with pained requests to delay the treat until the initial gorging had settled for awhile.  The children headed for parts unknown, confident that the after dinner conversation would be completely uninteresting, a point of view which might be argued to be accurate, even by a few of the adults.  It didn’t matter; by that time most of the folks at the table were too lethargic to care much anyway.  However, one of the little girls wanted to hang around near her grandpa, so she watched her brothers and sister troop out without her.

As she stood next to him, she noticed something.  Poking her grandfather in the mid-section, she was rewarded with a jelly-like bounce of the over-sized abdomen.  “What’s that, Grandpa?”  she queried.

Glancing around to see who else was listening, her grandfather said, in a stage whisper, “That’s my fat belly.” Naturally, the entire tableful of grown-ups chose that moment to cease the hubbub of conversation that had covered the little girl’s question.  They certainly heard his words, and listened with interest to hear her reaction.  She didn’t keep them waiting long.

“I don’t like your fat belly!”  The eavesdroppers guffawed at the embarrassed man, and the little girl suddenly noticed that she wasn’t in a conversation with just her grandfather anymore.  She stiffened her resolve and reiterated her position loudly.  “I just don’t like it!”

“Well then–I’ll get rid of it, Sweetie.”  The aging man didn’t stop to think of the ramifications; he merely said the words to calm her down.  “I’ll get rid of that fat tummy just for you.”  The little blond urchin was mollified, but she still got in a parting shot.

“Good!  ‘Cause I don’t like it.”  And with a baleful glare at the others around the table, she was gone to join her playmates.  The object of her castigation was simply relieved to have the ordeal over.  He didn’t think about it again–until almost a year had passed.  One-fourth of the tyke’s life.

As another Easter approached, the thought intruded (without permission) into his mind again and again, “You made a promise you haven’t kept.”  Funny.  It didn’t feel like a promise when he said it. But now, looking down at his still-fat belly, he heard his own voice clearly in his memory, “I’ll get rid of it, Sweetie.”

It sure sounded like a promise.

Guilt crowded in.  Promises must be kept.  Always.  Even the ones you didn’t intend to make.

So it was that, tardy by a whole year, the little girl’s grandpa sat at the table again as the Easter meal was served.  He made the announcement as the food began to be passed.

“This is my last meal before I start to keep a promise I made to a certain little girl.”

The family, reminded of the conversation, laughed again, but he was dead serious.

The belly is disappearing.  Changes have been made so that the promise may be kept–finally.  His goal within sight, the grandpa is finally beginning to feel that his guilt for forgetting his promise may actually be left behind along with the body fat which is slipping away.

The tale is not told here to focus on any effort by the little sweetheart’s grandfather.  That may or may not be laudable.  The story is passed along solely to have a conversation about keeping promises.

It seems that our society values only promises made to folks who are important enough, or powerful enough, or demanding enough, to bring about the action necessary to fulfill the pledge we have made.  But this is exactly how we miss the point.

Keeping a promise says nothing about the person to whom it was made.  Keeping that promise speaks volumes about the person who makes it.  Integrity demands that we keep our word, regardless of the person to whom we have given that word.

Promises un-kept eat at the soul of the promise breaker.  Promises fulfilled, especially at a cost to one’s self, build character and produce the personal satisfaction that comes simply from doing what is right.

The little girl’s grandpa is choosing his menus with a little self-discipline these days.  He’s also setting aside time on most days to get in some physical exercise.  Somehow, it seems an extremely cheap price to pay for integrity.

Come to think of it, he really didn’t like that fat belly much either.

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”
(from “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening”~ by Robert Frost~American poet~1874-1963)

“If a man makes a vow to the Lord, or takes an oath of binding obligation on himself, he must not break his word, but must do whatever he has promised.”
(Numbers 30:2~NET)

“‘Some people don’t understand the promises they’re making when they make them,’ I said.
“‘Right, of course.  But you keep the promise anyway.  That’s what love is.  Love is keeping the promise anyway.'”
(from “The Fault In Our Stars”~John Green~American author)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.

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