I remember the moment perfectly. I was nine years old and sitting on a branch high in an old apple tree. The day was clear and cool: a flawless summer afternoon.
Up there, I thought about all the things I wanted to do with my life.
The first thing I wanted was to get free of the neighborhood bully who forced me seek refuge in a tree — but I couldn’t do anything about that.
The next thing I wanted was something I have always wanted – so sitting up there on that branch, on that cool clear summer afternoon, I made myself a solemn vow.
“Promise me,” I swore to myself, “that once you grow up, you will buy a horse.”
Of course it didn’t occur to me that once I grew up and was (mostly) free of bullies that I would have children of my own and my promises to them would become more important than the promises I made to myself.
But that was years ago and now with my kids grown and retirement within sight, I sit in a cubical, not a tree, and spend my afternoons debating whether to buy a horse.
The part of me that wants a horse is what remains of that nine year old; the one whose yearning for things led him to believe that he could attain them just by committing his future self to a binding promise.
The other part of me, the one who does not want a horse – is the practical part. This is the grown up who realizes that by fulfilling a promise to a nine year old, another promise must be made to a horse. It means committing my future self to decades of cleaning stalls, hauling hay and paying ever increasing veterinary bills for what will inevitably become a pasture ornament.
The reason I bring this up is that I am very close to a decision. My wife and I are considering making an offer on a farm. Last weekend while inspecting the barn, I climbed up into the loft and let me tell you, that is not something you want to do on a blustery November day. The wind was near gale force and the entire structure rocked. Its century-old timbers groaned and creaked from stress and the floor rolled like the deck of a storm-tossed ship. I feared the whole thing might come collapsing down on my head. I also feared that the barn might become more of a money pit than a home for a horse.
But let’s get back to promises.
If you make yourself a promise then change your mind, does that let you off the hook or do you have to deliver on your promise just to enforce the principle that you should be cautious about committing your future self to promises?
The thing is, I need to be careful about breaking promises to myself because I am still working on a few. I would hate to live my life with no promises pending because each promise is a dream and by making even one come true, it makes all the other promises just a little more likely to be realized.
Note: I wrote this two years ago. It was my first entry on this blog. I am republishing it because it was also the least read. We didn’t buy the farm with the barn and I have yet to fulfill the childhood promise of buying a horse – though we certainly have the pasture for one.
I will remain off the grid until October but as you can see, I scheduled the reposting of some old essays just to keep things lively.