“A promise is when you say you will do something,” answered Mother Bear,” and then do your very best to do it.”
“But what if you don’t do it?” asked Baby Bear.
“Then it becomes a broken promise.”
“Can you fix it?” asked Baby Bear.
“Not easily,” said his mother. “That’s why it’s so important to keep it.”
from I Promise
written and illustrated by David McPhail
Little, Brown and Company, 2017
One time, long ago, I made a promise I could not keep. I had no business making the promise in the first place. Life happened, and I had to break the promise. It is one of my regrets.
It was a well-intentioned promise to my children.
I’ve since tried to teach them the importance of keeping their word. Of doing what they say they will do, the importance of carrying through. Honesty is a value I hold high. I strive for kindness. I try to keep my temper in check. But no one is perfect, and sometimes (many times) I fall short of the ideals I hold myself to.
My family was a family of immigrants. My gram and both grandmas, and both grandpas fled the countries of their birth. They traveled for many, many days in deplorable conditions. I don’t know what kind of documentation they needed or how they got it. They entered the United States through Ellis Island and Baltimore at a time when a flood of immigrants from all over Europe and eastern Europe were seeking safe places to live and opportunities to provide for their families.
The world is big and bad things can happen, even to good people.
My grandparents lived the American Dream. They came to this country partly to ensure safety for themselves and their families and partly for the opportunity to provide food, clothing, and shelter.
Lucky for me, they found all of that. And more. They found friendship in the communities where they settled. Most new friends were people fleeing from the same countries for the same reasons, looking for the same things. They learned English, figured out how to buy groceries, and build businesses.
They left the horrors of their past behind. At least, they never spoke of them to me. When I asked my grandpa to teach me some Russian words, he said, “nyet,” claiming that was the only word he remembered. Gram told me the same thing. She wondered why I even wanted to know.
And now in this wonderful land of opportunity and safe haven, immigrants fleeing from horrors I dread to imagine are being questioned about their honesty. Questioned about their need for asylum after traveling for weeks. A young father and his daughter detained for too long, babies (and older kids, too) kept away from their parents or sent to live hundreds of miles away without being able to communicate with each other. Fear of the known compounded by fear of the unknown, what they left and what they will find.
Maybe Dionne Warwick sang it best, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love.”
Maybe it was Emma Lazarus. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Sometimes someone makes a promise that should not have been made. Sometimes unintended consequences and bad outcomes are the result. Sometimes that feeds fear and foments hatred. Sometimes in our overzealous need to keep ourselves safe, someone promises a wall when what we really need is a bridge.
-—stay curious! (and make thoughtful promises)