We all made promises we couldn't keep for one reason or another. However, keeping a promise is one of the golden rules that set us apart. On many occasions I didn't care whether I said, "I'll do that," and then didn't. I didn't mind setting a date, an appointment with someone and not keep it. I was irresponsible - until one day an experience set me straight.
I was visiting the grandmother of a friend in hospital, when the nurse came in and asked me to step into the hallway for a minute. I followed her wondering what she could want with me. She then asked if I knew where my friend worked. Slightly surprised at the question, I replied, "Yes, we work in the same office - is there something the matter?"
The nurse shook her head. "Not really," she said, "but we tried calling her this afternoon but we only got her voice mail."
"Have you tried her cell," I asked, knowing that my friend had been going to a meeting that afternoon.
"Yes, we've tried that too, but she must have turned it off."
At a loss to think of what happened to her, I wondered if my friend had forgotten that we were to meet at the hospital and go for a pizza afterwards.
"She should be here shortly actually," I told the nurse, "She said she would meet me here when she finished with the client."
"Oh, that's great. Would you mind telling her that the doctor needs to see her about her grandmother when she gets here?"
"No problem," I replied, "I'll let her know."
When I returned to the room, the old lady seemed very uncomfortable. She was recovering from a simple operation, but she was a bit agitated.
"Where is Colleen?" she asked in a raspy voice.
"She'll be here soon," I replied soothingly, but worried. "Would you like some water?" I asked.
"No thank you, dear." She shook her head. "Could you do me a favor?"
"Yes, what is it?"
"Can you call her for me - I really don't feel that great - would you mind?"
Knowing I wouldn't get Colleen on the line, I pulled out my cell and dialed her number anyway. The old lady watched me - anxious to hear me say "Hello, Colleen?" - But all I got was "The number you are calling is not available - please try later." I flipped the phone shut, and shook my head.
The poor woman was visibly in pain but the tears that rolled down her cheeks then were not from any physical trauma, it was the wretched anxiety she suffered from knowing that her granddaughter had ignored her call.
"I'm sorry, I said, "but I'm sure she'll be here soon. She promised me to meet me here" My voice trailed off when I saw the old lady's eyes fix her gaze on me.
"Let me tell you something about Colleen," she began her voice firm now, "that granddaughter of mine never kept a promise in her life!"
I lowered my head, knowing how many times I had waited for Colleen myself to make it on time for an appointment. Worse, I knew how many times I had been guilty of the same thing.
"I wouldn't be surprised if she didn't show up tonight," the grandmother continued. "But tonight, I need her"
"Maybe I could give her a message," I ventured.
She shook her head. "No dear, this is something I want to tell her myself. I need her to know about something" she retorted, reclining her head onto the cushions, visibly exhausted.
I went out of the room quietly, meaning to get the nurse and inquire if there was anything I should know or do for the poor woman.
"I can't divulge the details," she told me, "since you're not a family member, but let's just say, that granddaughter of hers better get here rather quickly."
I turned away from the counter, and began pacing the length of the corridor. When I came upon the visitors' lounge, I went in and sat down in one of the chairs near the window. I knew what the nurse had meant. Something was very wrong, and Colleen, once again, had broken her promise to her grandmother.
As the hours stretched into the night, I decided to stay at the woman's bed side. At 4:00 am the next day, as I was drowsing in the chair, the nurse shook my shoulder and asked me to step out of the room.
"Colleen's grandmother has slipped into a coma," she said. "It won't be long now" Still stunned, and quite annoyed with my friend, I tried calling her number at her home this time - to no avail.
At 7:00am the old lady died in my arms. She had no other family in town and I couldn't get over the shock. I walked out of the room in a daze. Not knowing what to do next, the doctor, who had attended to the lady's last moments, told me to go home, get some rest and not to worry about anything else; "We'll advise the family," he said, walking away.
As I drove home that morning, I realized how much a promise meant, and swore I would never break any for as long as I lived.
When I found Colleen in the office that morning, I asked her, "Where were you last night?" as casually as my state of mind would allow.
"Oh, I had a great time! You know, after the meeting, this guy took me out for a drink and we went out for dinner, and one thing led to another - you know how it goes"
I didn't say a word, but as I was walking away to the washroom to have a good cry, I heard Colleen answer the phone, "OH! My God, No! No!" She had finally broken her last promise.