Saturday night found me on the way to see a school play a friend was co-directing. I was unfamiliar with this part of town and I had spent the past half hour showing the residents how unfamiliar I was.
I rolled down the window of my car one more time, and waved at another man on the street.
“Excuse me, how close am I to this school?” We both squinted at my directions. The sun was setting fast and it was getting hard to read clearly.
“You just missed it,” he answered. “It’s about 100 meters back.”
“Thanks,” I said, and slowly made a U turn in the two-lane road. I gingerly drove back, attempting to avoid people, stray dogs, and the occasional parked car. How cars can park in a two-lane road with no sidewalks is a rant for another day.
Eventually, I figured I must have passed a hundred meters –- how can anyone tell, anyway? –- and still hadn’t arrived at my destination. My friend had mentioned there was a sign in front of it as clear as day, and I hadn’t seen anything like that.
“Excuse me, Sir, I’m looking for this school.”
“Oh, you just missed it!”
I heard this answer and backtracked twice more before I ended up at the gate. The sign with the school’s name on it was clear as day, all right. Or rather, clear enough to read when it was daytime.
I drove in.
“I’m sorry, Miss,” the guard said. “You’re at the exit gate; the entrance is just a short distance away.”
“Ah,” I answered helpfully. “Is that the only way in?”
Of course it was.
I really shouldn’t have been surprised that I missed the entrance gate one more time (“It was right behind you!”). I’d spent an hour getting to know this road really well, and I was on the verge of calling it a day. Our other friends were going too — they’d be there by now, actually — so she probably wouldn’t miss me.
But I’d promised her I would be there. And I’d promised myself I’d keep my word.
You and I say thousands of them everyday to the people around us. We use them to agree, to disagree, to connect with each other. They tell people what we’re thinking, especially since no one can read minds just yet (and that’s a creepy thought for another day).
Sometimes we mean our words. Sometimes we don’t.
Either way, they affect how people see us when we say them. And that means they play a starring role in our relationships.
How often have we said we were going to do something and then didn’t do it?
Maybe you promised to drop by the store to pick something up for someone you live with, then you arrived home empty-handed.
Or you might have said you’d send a text if you were free to go out this weekend, only to be asked again after you didn’t update friends on your plans.
These are a few gaffes we’ve occasionally done & when they happen, we say sorry and move on. And it’s all right; you and I do forget and make honest mistakes. But stop following through on your words over and over and it’ll become an issue with people you love.
It’s not a deal breaker in relationships, but it’s like a pebble in a shoe.
You can still walk around with that pesky piece of rock, but it gets more annoying the longer you go along.
For example, I’ve always been that person snapping photos of the fun happening at parties. I have also always been that person who forgets to post said photos on Facebook. I usually promise to send copies of the shots while we’re all looking at them in my camera, but I’m terrible about actually sending them.
“Daisy’s always so busy that she forgets,” people would say and I’d agree sheepishly while we laughed about it. It was just the way it was, like how other friends got teased about being a klutz or the last to get the punchline.
Then someone made a joke about my forgetfulness last April that I’ve never forgotten.
It was funny and I laughed like I always did. But the fact that it was true was becoming embarrassing, and that wasn’t as funny anymore.
Not giving people copies of their shots after parties was a little thing, but was I really okay with people thinking my words were so empty that they were an urban legend?
To paraphrase Annie Traurig’s quote above, did I want to be “the person others love dearest but never expect to follow through on verbal intentions”?
So, almost a year ago, I decided to be careful that my promises and my actions matched. I decided I wanted to be that person who kept her word, even in the small stuff.
This bad habit hasn’t disappeared overnight, but people around me have noticed the difference.
Just one simple thing, actually. I started keeping my word.
So let’s get back to an exasperated me on a random road after 5 U turns.
I soldiered on, eventually finding the mythical entrance gate and a seat in the back of the auditorium to watch the play. I was pretty late, so I ducked in between scenes and didn’t bother looking for familiar faces in the crowd.
The show was a whole world away from how I imagined school plays to be: an orchestra playing the music on one side, the stage done up with all sorts of props, and the kids in professionally-made costumes not missing any of their cues (at least, not that the audience could tell). I clapped enthusiastically when they called my friend up during curtain call; she’d been busy at this for months and done an awesome job.
“You came!” she exclaimed when I hugged her after the show.
“Of course I did! I told you I would!” I answered while scanning the crowd around us. “Where’s everyone else?”
“They couldn’t make it.” Huh?
“I guess you’re my number 1 friend now,” she joked as we had a photo taken with the star of the show.
So with Valentine’s Day upon us, do you want to make your relationships less complicated?
Do you want to get people to see you as someone to be counted on? Do you want to be a person that supports when your loved ones need a hand?
Then next time you find yourself saying “I’ll do that”, do it. Write it down somewhere so you don’t forget. Even if it’s just passing a message, write it down. Then just do it. Rinse, and repeat.
Keep doing this one small thing. People will love you for it.
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