A Story for All Ages by Becky Brooks
Once upon a time there was a fox named Ralph and a platypus named Gene, both of whom lived in a very large city and neither of whom had very much money. They both put ads in the paper and online to try to find a roommate. That's how they found each other. When they met for the first time, it was okay. Gene had a very clammy handshake, but Ralph didn't mind. Ralph stared very intently when he was listening, but that didn't bother Gene. They both decided that they would be roommates and share a small apartment near the park.
The very first night after they had moved in, Ralph stumbled over the boxes that Gene had left in the middle of the floor. Grumble grumble grumble, he said in a fox-like tone of voice. Later that night Gene walked into the living room in his favorite pajamas and Ralph laughed out loud, pointing out the small holes along the seams where the fabric was worn out. Grumble grumble grumble, he said with a low platypus sound, and went back to his room.
The next morning Ralph was pouring himself some cereal and noticed that Gene had left the milk on the counter overnight and it was all warm. There oughta be a law, Ralph grumbled. Later that day Gene slipped and fell in the kitchen where Ralph had just waxed the floor without letting him know. There oughta be a law, Gene muttered.
That night when Ralph got home, Gene greeted him at the door and waved a piece of paper around in his fist—"We've gotta have some rules!" he shouted. Ralph pulled a piece of paper out of his own pocket and shouted right back—"Oh yeah? I got some rules of my own!"
Ralph's rules were:
1. No leaving anything in the middle of the floor—Exclamation point!
2. Food should stay in the refrigerator—Exclamation point!
Gene's rules were:
1. No laughing—Exclamation point!
2. No cleaning—Exclamation point!
"Fine!" said Ralph.
"Fine!" said Gene
So for the next two weeks no one put anything on the floor. For the next two weeks no one opened the refrigerator. For the next two weeks no one laughed. And for the next two weeks no one cleaned anything.
Oddly, this strict adherence to the rules didn't make anyone happy. One morning they were sitting at the table—not eating breakfast because they had already eaten all the food outside the refrigerator. And they agreed that the rules weren't working out as well as they had thought. They sat there for a long time, not knowing what to do.
"I'm sorry I didn't tell you about waxing the floor," said Ralph. "Next time I'll let you know."
"Promise?" asked Gene.
"I promise," said Ralph.
And that's when they got a very good idea. Instead of rules for how they would treat each other, they made promises.
Gene promised to take good care of the things that they shared, to put away the milk so it wouldn't go bad and keep the floor clear so no one would trip on anything. Ralph promised too.
Ralph also promised to be kind because that's how he would like other people to treat him. Gene promised too.
They both promised to talk to one another if something was bothering them, and to talk about decisions together so that each of them would have a vote.
They thought of a lot of good promises, all through the day and all through the night. Just when he couldn't keep his eyes open any longer, Gene thought of one more promise. "I promise to be the best roommate ever," he said. But Ralph furrowed his brow. "I don't know if I can promise that," he said, "but I can promise to try." And that was their favorite promise of all.
One of the things that I think is really special about Unitarian Universalism is that we make some great promises. Some of these are promises that we say to each other with words and some are promises that we practice with our actions. We promise to be kind and to treat people and animals and the earth with respect. We promise to make decisions together and to take care of the things we share, like our church building and the hymnals and the trees out front. What other promises do we make to one another? How can promises help us be better neighbors, better community members and better friends?