Promises, Promises

I’m scrambling to keep a promise of sorts, a promise I made to myself that I’d forgotten had to begin today. So, left with so little time, I haul out the tools of a trade in promises and set to work.

I wonder about promises sometimes, about the little words we set so much store by, about the promises that life won’t let us keep, of fidelity, duty, and borrowing.

Promises sound like lovely things, do they not? They are heady, portentous, holding all our future in their grasp. We like to think we can keep them; that it somehow makes us more noble, better as people, to keep the words we set out on paper and utter aloud. Perhaps it does; perhaps it does good for our souls, and the souls of others, to take something as fragile and fleeting as word and turn it into something solid, concrete, and indisputable to history. Perhaps that is why we do it. It is the only real control we have over time, to manipulate the future through some vapourish utterance of the past.

Still, for all the lovely things implied in a promise, I don’t like them. I don’t like them because they are so lightly made and so often broken. Why, I sometimes wonder, do people even bother? Is it to strive toward being a person of goodness? Is it because we think we are saying what another person wishes most to hear from us?

“Don’t make promises that life won’t let you keep.”

Sometimes life gets in the way. It’s no one’s fault, yet someone may still be hurt. They may understand on one level, but on another level their faith may be shaken and that is the power promises have over us — they are the masters of our faith in other people and in ourselves.

I don’t make promises, because I know there are too many things — mostly myself — that can get in the way of them being fulfilled and this can cause you to not want to try again. Likely this makes of one a weaker soul, because you set neither goals nor limits. But I think it’s fair not to promise to love another until death do you part, because love may be one of the most fleeting things of all.

We make such solid sounding structures out of the most flimsy things we have. We are, perhaps, trying to prove that we are masters of something beyond our own selves, to leave a mark somewhere so others to know we existed. We are not immortal, but the results of our life’s work can sometimes give an illusion of immortality. Mind you, despite all the negativity, there is a significant amount of sweet elation in fulfilling a promise, big or small. There is that wonderful sense of accomplishment, the satisfaction of overcoming obstacles to reach a goal, and sometimes just the joy of doing something for the benefit of another person.

I keep my promises quiet within myself so I risk disappointing no one but myself. When they are kept, I still get the satisfaction of having done something I set out to do and I’m not sure what I lose when I fail, except the glory one receives from other people for having kept your word.

What are promises? Are they manipulations, appeasements, gospels, goals, dreams, or exercises of wit? They are all those things, and none of them. They are what we make of them, even those unspoken ones implied by other actions, which perhaps are the most dangerous of all because no pseudo-concrete words reinforced them. They are, too, the ones that seem to hurt most when they are not fulfilled. They happen all the time between people with different perspectives and definitions for things. Yet we, as a species, cannot all read from the same dictionary. That would make us a very dull lot indeed.

Perhaps the wisest thing we did was to Babelising ourselves. It is that thing that creates difference and variety, and to me that is one of our most precious resources. We are that silly box of chocolates, all more or less the same on the outside, but each having a different flavour when tasted.

My advice would be to not make promises lightly; not even the resolutions of a drunken New Year’s Eve. So often we make promises because they are expected of us, yet so often they are given little heed the next day. Give weight to the words you make. Give weight to yourself, and your self. Sometimes promises are broken, and that is the way of things, but at least make no utterance that is without sincerity. Make no resolution that is not honest, at least to you. Remember that someone, somewhere will always believe what you’re telling them. Don’t prove them wrong.

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