I believe in showing up. On the first day of class I tell my students that attendance is crucial, that the class will only achieve its potential with everyone’s full participation, that I’ll lower their grades for too many absences. Nonetheless, their excuses soon fill my inbox: “I had a headache; my car wouldn’t start; I slept through the alarm.” That I bother to respond — “Ibupropen; city bus; get more sleep” – surprises them. They don’t seem to realize they might actually be missed.
And yet, I do miss them. Just like I miss seeing friends when they cancel our dates. I’ve learned not to confirm lunch plans since it provides an opportunity to back out. “I’m really swamped,” a friend will say. Or “I think I might be coming down with something. Would you mind if we rescheduled?” In a word, yes. And not just because it’s making a crossed-out mess of my planner. With our hectic lives, rescheduling is complicated. Don’t these friends realize I’ve been reserving this point in time just for them? The fact that I’m disappointed seems incidental but it’s true, too. I wanted to hear about their trip to Oklahoma, or to ask them career advice, or maybe just to share a laugh over a Caesar salad.
I developed this quirk about honoring commitments early in life. You’ll find the label “Most Dependable” pasted next to my high school yearbook photo, an honor bestowed upon me as the only person who showed up for the Junior Class bake sale. (Too bad you missed those banana cupcakes.) Even today, I go to committee meetings and potluck dinners and middle school art shows. But I’ve also learned to be judicious about making plans in the first place. If I’m not absolutely convinced I need or want to do something, I don’t schedule it. And yes, it can be hard to say no upfront, but it ultimately saves time and spares feelings.
It surprises me how little value is placed on reliability (except perhaps, when ranking an automobile’s performance). Even though Woody Allen claims “80% of success is just showing up,” most of us seem unconvinced. For some reason, it’s become socially acceptable to act a little flaky. Where there were once prizes for good attendance, we’re now offered “mental health days.” While I’m as keen on psychological well being as the next person, I don’t think we benefit by condoning these kinds of absences. As anyone knows, the work will still need to be done, along with the new stress of having to get caught up. And admit it, don’t you feel a teeny bit guilty for having played hooky? Mental health? Not in my mind.
So I’ll opt for permanent ink over penciling things in any day. And I’ll keep humming the theme song from the sitcom “Friends. ” You probably know the lyrics, or at least the part of the refrain that goes, “I’ll be there for you…”
Well, I can always hope.
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