600-Mile Pledge, Fulfilled

single grave stone cut out

Wayne Williams, Jr., of Fuquay Varina kept a promise and the world took notice. From the Washington Times to USA Today and from ESPN to WRAL, media outlets of every kind shared the story of a man driving from North Carolina to Indiana to listen to a ball game with his dad, who passed away in 1980.

It was a simple thing. Decades ago, Mr. Williams and his dad made a pact that “when, not if,” the Cubs had a chance to win the World Series, they’d be together to see the historic victory. His dad didn’t live to see the day, but that didn’t keep Williams from fulfilling his promise. He sat graveside and played the game for them both, complete with a ‘W’ flag to fly in case things went right.

I read this story every time it popped up in my news feed and I watched reporters of different accents put their individual spin on it. Sure, it was a unique story, and being a Cubs fan myself, I was drawn to every yarn spun around their epic win, but clearly this struck a different kind of chord.

How many promises have I made in my adult life? Promises to others, my kids, my husband, my friends. How many promises have I made to myself?  I make lists of New Year’s resolutions that stretch pages in my journals and every year; every new set became another round of promises to myself that, like porcelain figurines carried by a toddler, were all but guaranteed to shatter and break.

It’s OK though, because everyone breaks promises. And it hits me, why this story penetrated my soul—no one would have held him to this promise.

No one would have given Mr. Williams guilt or grief if this was a promise he broke. In fact, I read how he had to essentially convince his kids that this was simply something he had to do. Meanwhile, I often only keep promises to avoid the guilt and disappointment of others. It’s a notion reinforced in our culture. We call it having an “accountability partner”. If you tell people you’re going to run, or eat well, or promise to meet them at the gym, you’re more likely to do it to avoid the guilt factor. Mr. Williams honored something that seems like it’s from a bygone era, the “my word is my bond” idea.

I think about some of the resolutions, the promises, I’ve broken over the years: “I promise I won’t be late;” “I promise to go to sleep at a decent hour;” “I promise to never ever lose my temper at my husband or my kids.”

As I tick off the list of broken promises, just the ones that pop quickly to mind, I realize three things: I promise too much; I promise things that are out of my control; and, worst of all, sometimes I make promises that I never really intend to keep.

Every time I break one of those promises I lose a little faith in myself. So with New Year’s approaching, what do I do? I believe in continuing to hope and work to be the best version of myself I can be. And though there is a long list to work on for sure, I think right now I’m feeling the call to keep my promises, especially the ones I make to myself.

So, my resolution for 2017 is to keep my promises. And I’ll only promise three things.  I promise to be honest, in work, in life, in faith and with myself.  I promise to try, even when I want to give up. And, in a nod to Mr. Williams I promise that if Notre Dame is in the FBS national Championship, I’ll cheer for the Irish with my dad, no matter what.

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