“There’s a reason a set time is given for most everything,” my mother said, staring at her 12-year-old daughter with narrow, “Miss Manners” eyes. “Turning up late is just plain rude.”
I could understand the importance of being punctual for a birthday celebration, but school was a different matter. It was bad enough I had to go, let alone arrive on the dot.
“What about being fashionably late?” I quizzed. “People do it all the time.”
“Being fashionably late is just being selfish. What if everyone thought the same thing?” she continued. “No one would show up until the event was almost over.” My mother’s words frustrated me to no end back then, but years later, I grew to fully appreciate them.
On a warm June evening in 2011, I had the rare opportunity to meet a dear college friend, Pam May, for dinner. It was on my calendar for Tuesday. We’d even confirmed via email. The day was a particularly hectic one. Every second was allocated for something, but I made sure I left in plenty of time for the 45-minute trek to Kincaid’s Restaurant in Burlingame.
Upon my arrival, I searched high and low, and Pam was not to be found.
Hmm, I thought to myself. She must be running late. I sat at the bar and ordered a drink.
Ten, fifteen, twenty minutes went by and still no Pam.
Okay, this is rude, I thought to myself, getting annoyed. Then a sick feeling wafted over me. This was not like her. Could she have been in an accident?
I pulled out my cell phone and to my dismay, discovered I lost her number. I scrolled through old emails on my iPhone to find our most recent discussion; It clearly said “Can’t wait! See you Tuesday.”
Where can she be? I thought, increasingly more worried. Scrolling down a little further I located our very first email. The subject line read: “Dinner on Tuesday, April 19th.”
“April 19th!” I blurted out loud, startling the other Happy Hour participants. “It’s April 5th. I’m two weeks early!” Feeling like a complete idiot, I finished my drink, paid the bill and slithered out the door.
Walking through the parking lot, I thought about the deep affection I’d had for Pam. We were young women when we met in college forty years ago, carefree and full of hope for our futures. We shared weddings, births, divorces, and deaths. Now, we were middle-aged women desperately trying to keep all the threads of our lives woven together while still maintaining our cherished friendship. No wonder I was early. I was beyond excited to see her.
While I don’t advise arriving two weeks early for any event, but my extreme punctuality for that dinner with Pam taught me something important. Punctuality is a true measure of respect and care for the person/people you’re planning to meet or the event you’re planning to attend.
When we lose our manners, we lose respect for those around us – and ourselves. Once upon a time, etiquette was the glue that held our society together, enabling friends and neighbors to live in an orderly fashion, polite and respectful, though it often appears to be a lost art these days.
Perhaps it’s time to dust off that book on social decorum and review! Punctuality is a great place to start rebuilding lost etiquette and, hopefully, we’re not too late to teach our children well.
How do you feel when people are late? Does it bother you, or do you do the same thing?
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