The Honor of your Presence

If you’re like me, a trip to the mailbox most days includes the occasional invite to an engagement party, wedding or baby shower.

I have a question for you – when such an invitation arrives in your mailbox, do you immediately start thinking of reasons you can go, or scan the invitation for details looking for excuses not to go?

I’m writing this because I think it’s one of the unspoken social tragedies of our generation – the failure of the RSVP and dwindling attendance at weddings, showers and other milestone moments.

I’ve heard the stories over and over again – the bride and groom who reserved a nice chapel only to have 2/3 of the church empty. The roommate trying to plan a baby shower for a friend, only to have four of the 30 people invited RSVP by the deadline. The wife trying to plan a surprise 40th birthday party for her husband who had 6 of the 10 guests bail out the day of because “something came up,” leaving a hot dinner and no one to eat it.

To be fair, we are overbooked with hobbies, sporting events, outings and church activities like never before, but something profound in our culture has changed when attendance at the life events of one’s friends has taken a backseat to eating pancakes in your pajamas.

I’m speaking to weddings mostly, but this also applies to showers, anniversary dinners, baptisms, major birthdays and reunions too. I realize we live in the day of Cable TV, DVR, Netflix, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Facetime, Wii, video games and a stream of other technology. (When you put it that way, why would anyone ever leave the house?) But when you receive an invitation in the mail, all of a sudden you’ve been invited to something that’s not all about you – it’s about the person who is retiring, the parents-to-be expecting their first child, or the milestone of a golden wedding anniversary.

First, let’s discuss the RSVP – no longer does the “I couldn’t find a stamp” excuse hold true, as there have never been more ways to RSVP – mail, e-mail, phone and text. When we say we can’t RSVP, what we really mean is, “I can’t be expected to know what I’ll be doing a month from now. Something else might come up.” People don’t like to commit six days in advance, much less six weeks.

We like to think there are urgent, pressing issues on why we can’t come to our friends’ big events – “Sorry, I couldn’t come to your wedding because I was stopping global warming,” when in reality, it’s more like, “Sorry, I can’t come to your shower – I need to go grocery shopping and wash my hair.”

Some of the worst excuses I’ve heard?

“Sorry, I couldn’t come to your baptism – I was too tired.”

“It would take all of Saturday afternoon.” (to attend your wedding)

And, “We planned to go, but [insert significant other’s name] didn’t feel like going anywhere.”

I once heard a clueless friend ask, “Why do I need to drive an hour to go to the wedding when there will be pictures on Facebook that night?”

Because the universe does not rotate on a pole that runs through the center of your own head.

Because the bride and groom would probably like to have bodies in the pews at their wedding to help them celebrate the biggest day of their life.

They are requesting the honor of your presence.

Society has told us to “just say no” when we’re overwhelmed, but too often we’re saying “no” to the wrong things. Say no to cutting the grass, spending a Saturday at the mall or an evening spent playing Candy Crush, for goodness’ sake, not a friend from church’s wedding or a fraternity brother’s shower.

It’s true that not all invites are equal. You’re not necessarily obligated to go to your neighbor’s niece’s jewelry party or your childhood babysitter’s graduation.  An invitation to the wedding of your boss’s daughter, whom you’ve never met, isn’t the same as a fraternity brother’s wedding, true. If you’ve never met the person, or if you have to buy something at the party, the rules are slightly different. But pity the day we stay home from an ex-roommate’s baby shower because “it’s 45 minutes away,” or “I’m just too busy” (doing laundry and watching college football).

If you’re one of those in-demand people who has some event to go to every weekend….well, be thankful. Be thankful you’re that popular and have that many friends, because some people don’t.

When all else fails, put yourself in the guest of honor’s shoes. “If it were me, would I want them to come to my event?” No one wants to look back on their special day [insert event] and say “Gee, honey, remember our wedding? No one came.”

So the next time your presence is requested at the event of a friend or relative, consider how lucky you are to have them – and the honor they are paying you by asking you to join the big day.

And sometimes the old saying rings true –

“Your attendance is your gift.”