“the promise”

A little girl wearing a yellow sundress sat barefoot on the edge of a wooden dock at the side of a quiet lake. Her shoulder length hair was the color of honey. Her eyes were brown and specks of light colored freckles scattered across her tiny nose.
She sat next to a little boy. He was the same age as she was. He sat beside her, quietly swinging his legs back and forth above the still water.
Like the girl, the little boy’s hair was the color of honey.  He was slightly plump with an innocent face and hazel eyes. The little boy was dressed in a pair of denim overalls with one of the straps loosely dangling from his right shoulder. He too was barefoot with the bottoms of his pants rolled up to the calf so the denim would not soak in the lake

Overhead, the August sun was on its way down. The wind was calm and the colors of sunset brightened the horizon behind the rolling mountains of a peaceful country landscape
The boy said nothing. He swung his legs above the water. His eyes were fixed on the reflection that spread across the lake’s surface.

The little girl held a small bouquet of wildflowers that she and the young boy picked together on the way over to the lake. To them, the world was young and green—everything was still new and beautiful.

Breaking silence, the little girl spoke out. “Let’s make a promise.”
She said, “Let’s get married when we grow up.”
The little boy smiled with the smile of a school boy’s crush, and then he nodded to agree.

She said, “Even if it’s not really going to happen, let’s pretend like it will. Okay?”
“Okay,” smiled the boy.

Whether the promise remained or if it was forgotten is less important in this case. In this case, the promise was only needed to fill a moment in a little girl’s world. And, I suppose she held that promise; even if it were not real, I suppose the little girl held on because the words, “I promise” were tied to it.

We tend to hold on to the words, “I promise.” But not all promises are kept. And rather than accept this, we think to ourselves and say, “But they promised.” We do this to keep the spark of hope.
Many times, promises fall short. Like most, I have been let down, and I too have thought the same thing.
“But they promised.”

Not all promises will be kept.
I know this.
But not all of them will be broken.

In one of my last few conversations with The Old Man before he passed, he looked me directly in the eye and promised, “I’m not going anywhere, kid.”
I trusted his word because The Old Man never lied. The Old Man hated liars and he hated being lied to.

I asked him, “Are you going to be okay?”
Before The Old Man could answer, I interrupted him.
“I know you would never lie to me. So if you say you’re going to be okay, then I know you’ll be fine because you would never lie. So I’m going to ask you if you’re going to be okay, and you just tell me yes, and then I’ll know.”

The Old Man’s eyes were watery.
I asked, “Are you gonna be okay?”
“I’m gonna be okay, kid. I promise.”

Even if I knew this promise could not be kept; I still needed to hear it. I needed to believe—even if I knew the truth—I still needed to believe The Old Man was going to be okay because I was too afraid and too hurt to live without him.

I held on to The Old Man’s promise. After he passed away, I kept it close.
I kept his promise neatly folded in the place where important emotions, thoughts, and memories are stored. This way, if I ever felt alone or if I ever needed a word or sign from The Old Man, I could pull out that promise and depend on it.

We are a species of terms. And though a man’s word is not always bond, we still hold on and hope as if the promise were true . . .

One day, I was home from work. I was alone and sad because my life had swiveled downward and I felt as if everything I had was gone. There was no light seeming to shine at the end of the tunnel. But rather than stay home and sink deeper, I decided to replace thought with action and take a walk.
I chose to walk the large field behind my old elementary school. The spring had just begun and the weather was becoming warm. I was dressed in a suit and fresh from a job interview, which went poorly and was why I stayed home.

The playground was empty. Perhaps, the playground was empty because the kids were in class and I arrived after recess. The school’s field was nearly empty, but not completely.
I noticed a woman. She was very well-dressed and watching her daughter run across the field. The little girl ran to pick up all the feathery dandelions she could find. Each time the little girl found one, she would pick it from the ground, hold it in front of her mouth, and then the little girl would blow the tiny white feathers as hard as she could. Most times, the little girl had to blow more than once to get the feathers to fly from the green stem

As for me, I was too deep in my own sadness. I was fresh from a failed marriage. I was alone and felt unsuccessful. I watched the little girl, almost resentfully, because she seemed so happy to run around and pick up dandelions.

Eventually, the girl picked nearly all of the feathery dandelions in her area. This brought her closer to me. I was able to get a look at her. She was very sweet looking and dressed in a nice little outfit.  Her eyes would open as wide as they could whenever she spotted another dandelion. She would run as fast as she could with her pudgy little arms extended in her direction of travel. She would squat a little, pick the feathery dandelion, and then the little girl closed her eyes to make a wish. I could see the her lips move when she whispered to herself. Her eyebrows scrunched down, as if to describe the importance of her whisper.

The mother walked in the background. She wore sunglasses to protect her eyes from the bright sun. She walked slowly, as if to explain that she too were deep in her own thought.
The little girl cried out, “Look Mommy, another one,” and then she ran for the closest dandelion.
Eventually, the little girl spotted the ones that were near me.
She called out, “Look Mommy, there’s more over there.”

When the little girl ran towards me, the mother tried to call her back.
But the little girl did not listen. Instead she stopped right in front of me.
The little girl pointed to the two feathery dandelions near my feet.

Impressed by her innocence, I decided to relent my sadness and bend down to pick them for her. I reached out and handed the dandelions to the little girl. I noticed the mother coming closer.
The little girl made her wish. She closed her eyes as tightly as possible. She whispered to herself, somewhat loudly, and then she blew the dandelions as hard as she could.

The mother was near. She explained, “Come on baby, let’s go. We have to get back.”
Then the mother looked at me and apologized.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
“No need to be,” I explained.
I asked the little girl about the dandelions. She told me, “My daddy promised if you pick the feathery ones, you can make a wish, but you have to blow on them really hard, otherwise your wish won’t come true.”

“What did you wish for,” I asked

“I wished my daddy would come home from heaven.”

Then the mother took the little girl by the hand.
“Come on, sweetheart. It’s time to go.”

We all have our own sadness. We are all afraid of being left behind, or worse, we are all afraid of being alone.  This is why we sometimes believe the unbelievable; we believe because we are afraid of the truth.  This is why we tie to the words, “I promise.” It’s so we can feel better.

As for my example with the little girl and boy by the lake, perhaps the odds are against them. Maybe grade school will change the way the feel for each other; maybe status will their perception of importance. Or, maybe—just maybe, that promise will hold true.

I cannot be afraid to live, love, or lose in any way.
I cannot be afraid of pain. Pain is an equal part of life.
Unfortunately pain is inevitable in many cases; however, living in fear of the next step, or living without daring because I might find rejection or heartache will only prevent me from the glory of say, when I see the woman I love or the smile of my child.

I once asked my mother if she had any regrets about The Old Man.
“Not one,” she said.
“Not even at the end when he was really sick.

My mother told me, “Son, dying is part of living.”
“You can’t be afraid to live.”

I never forgot that . . .


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