We all say it. Often times, we really don’t mean it, but we still say it. The value of the words are only as powerful as the hearts intent. We use the words to persuade children to do the things we want them to do and say them in our wedding vows…..the words, “I promise”.
There are times when promises can become painful, emotionally charged, overwhelming; even unjustifiable. Yet the words remain in effect.
Many years ago when I left home for college, my father made me “promise” to call him if I “needed anything, anything at all.” Years later, he stood at the altar, watching as I walked down the aisle of the church, on the arm of my twin brother, to promise to love, honor and obey the young Air Force Airman that I had fallen in love with. Years passed yet again, my marriage failed, promises were broken, and things fell apart. Yet, my father was standing at my doorway, asking me to promise to call him if I” needed anything, anything at all.”
I moved away, landed a new job and found myself promising to marry a young handsome Marine. There my father stood again, watching as I repeated the words, ” I promise to…”. As my new husband and I settled into military deployments, my father would call and ask me to promise to…. “call if you need anything, anything at all, anything at all.”
I was standing in my kitchen on a rainy, cold day in February,2000. The phone rang, startling me. It was my father.
“Jessi, I need you to come home. I am calling all of you kids, I need you all to come home for a family meeting”. My dad loved his family meetings, a time when all of his kids would gather in his living room , waiting for his “words of wisdom”, lectures, or simply just to gather us all in one spot, so he could “look at us” and tell us how proud he was….
I could tell by the tone in his voice that this family meeting would be different. I questioned his intention of the meeting, but he simply said,
“Promise me you will be here on the 20th.We will talk about it then”.
We all gathered, and sat in his living room, staying true to our promise to not miss his “meeting”. I can still see him today, walking into the living room, dresses in dress pants, a white dress shirt and a black tie. My mother sat quietly on the sofa, wedged in between ” mama’s boys”.
” I am so glad I have you all here. You each make my heart proud. I love each of you so much. God has blessed your mother and I abundantly.”
Without hesitation, he continued. ” I have some news. Now before I tell you, I need you to promise me that you will respect the decision your mother and I have prayerfully made.” Normally, when he would start a conversation like that, it meant that we were moving, again. We moved around a great deal growing up, each time to a new church, a new town with new friends. But this was different.
” I recently went to the doctor. I have prostate cancer. It has spread. Your mother and I know there are treatments like chemo that can slow it down, but we have decided to not pursue any treatment. The doctor says I have about six months. God has blessed us beyond measure and allowed your mother and I raise six beautiful, God fearing children and it is up to Him, and Him alone to determine when any of us go to our eternal home…..”
I no longer could hear what he was saying. My brain was frozen on the words, “I have cancer. Six months.” I felt sick to my stomach. I felt my eyes burning as tears flowed down my face. I could see my brothers consoling my mother. I could see my sister as she buried her face in her hands.
” I need you kids to promise me to stay close to one another. Love each other. Take care of each other. Be strong for each other. Promise me that you boys will take care of your mother. You girls too. Promise me that you will reach out to one another, help each other and be there for one another. You boys take care of your sisters, be there for them if they need anything, anything at all.”
For the next few months, we all went home weekly, changing plans, vacation and business trips, just to be home. There were no “family meetings”, just gatherings. We would sit in the living room as if we were all young kids again, playing games and strolling down memory lane. My oldest brother, a hard core Marine, would pick me up, spinning me in the ” airplane”, just as before he done when I was 8.
” Wayne, put your sister down this moment before you hurt her!” My mother would yell from the kitchen after hearing my screams. My dad would chuckle as he watched us play together as we had for so many years. You could hear the other siblings getting into trouble as well with our mother for cheating at Uno or for sticking their finger in the cake frosting bowl. Dad would sit in his recliner, chuckling as his children found mischief while our mother’s stern voice demanding her grown children to “behave” could be heard throughout the house.
August 28th, 2000 was the saddest day of my life. My father died. It was the hardest, most emotionally charged day I have ever survived. No day will ever be more difficult for me, no matter what happens. Suddenly, I was lost without the man I loved so dearly….the man who stood true to ever promise he made. The man I idolized.
Many years later, I cringe when I hear the word “promise.” I don’t know why, but it’s just a normal reaction. Maybe it is because the word is used without the same emphasis of past years…..people promise things without actually meaning to fulfill the empty words. Politicians promise things, TV preachers stand in the pulpit promising a return on the money you mail them, supermarkets promise savings if you shop exclusively there, mechanics promise to fix your car by Friday……….on and on.
Yesterday, I sat outside at work and talked to Willie. Willie loved his wife Maggie so much, and having lost her to cancer, has devastated him. He wept as he spoke about her, telling me how much he loved and missed her. Without hesitation, he said, ” Maggie and I promised to love one another until death do us part. You know what hurts ? The promise never stops, not even at death.” I listened to him for over an hour as he talked about Maggie……as I got up to leave to go back to my office, Willed yelled after me….
“Young lady, come get me if I can help you do anything. Promise to holler for me if you need anything, anything at all……….”