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.
16 thoughts on “Promises”
1) find someone else who wants to buy a horse.
2) buy it for them.
3) immediately sell said horse to them.
And voila, you have fulfilled your promise AND avoided an expensive hobby.
Just think of all those poor lonely horses you could have owned and saved from depression.
Retirement and an empty nest is, as a wise man recently wrote, “an opportunity to re-shape your life.” There’s something in that promise, but maybe the horse is an emblem for something else?
I’m afraid you’re going to need time-traveling space monkeys to enable your younger self to beat your older self up.
I’ve tried and tried to remember — I don’t believe I’ve ever made a promise to myself. I’ve certainly had some dreams and some goals, but I just can’t remember any specific promise. The good news is that I don’t feel any lack because of it. Maybe I live too much in the present.
Some dreams are meant to become reality. Some are not. Take that however you wish.
That horse promise might not be the best. When I was about the same age I promised my self I’d live to be 247 years old. Now the idea of outliving everybody I love sounds cruel.
Horses and boats…. best rented.
I don’t know a lick about horses, but I know boats, and I’ve known them for years. You’re right. Buying the boat is the least of it. It’s what comes after that eats your lunch. It sounds like a horse would do the same thing, while it was eating its hay.
‘Course there is an alternative. Find a local stable and go riding every weekend. That way you get all the fun and none of the responsibility.
DONNNNNNN’TTTTTTT buy a horse. I have owned four in the span of ten years. They were all loveable and beautiful. They were also expensive. You see they were horses designed for show. Jumpers and hunters. They cost a bundle to begin with and then came the upkeep and specialist fees. Shoes every six weeks at $250 a pop (special) Special feed. Special care. Not to mention they cannot be left alone. EVER and must be ridden every day. Just don’t.
It is good to have unfulfilled dreams. It keeps one in a perpetual state of someday, maybeness. Some dreams will never be realized and it is still okay to imagine them…
From my cubicle at work: I am on a path in the high reaches of Mongolia. Prayer flags whip in the wind and solemn-eyed, wizened children hold out hands for spare change. My feet are shod in hemp rope sandals and I look out on the mountains and contemplate eternity. Next stop: back to the real world. But not yet.
Horses bite and step on your sneakers and stink like, well, horse schnidt. Austin Healy’s don’t do any of that and chicks dig ’em. ‘Nuff said.
Nice post. I work with a woman who is now in her 50s and just purchased a horse for her 16 year old daughter. We had the conversation about – 16, college, 1,200lb dog, fees of all kinds, etc but the deed is done and the family seems to be happy. Of course, it hasn’t snowed here yet and they are 30 miles from the barn.
Promises unkept to oneself, that’s a heavy one. A horse and/or a farm is a lot of work, so that’s a big decision. I’m sure you will both decide what is best for you. Promises, like dreams, can evolve or metamorphose into other promises and dreams.
Very much worth re-posting, Almost Iowa.
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