Some commitments are more important than others.

I know: duh.

But seriously. When you say, "I'm writing a novel," and then you don't, who do you hurt? Yourself, for sure, unless your own integrity demands that you don't write it, at least at this moment.

But what if you say "I'm writing a novel," and then just...don't, for no real reason except that it's hard, or something else was more fun? Make this kind of "commitment" often enough and sooner or later, you won't believe yourself when you make commitments, and then it's even harder to keep them.

"Oh, sure," your inner self says. "We'll see how long this lasts," whether you're committing to write a novel or run a 10K or just spend Saturday mornings with your kids. And then that inner critic claps with glee when you sleep in instead of putting in your page count or mileage, or heading off toward the playground.

You could also argue that when you don't write your novel, we all are hurt, because your voice isn't in the world, informing or inspiring or delighting us. But we don't know that. It's not an immediate hurt.

On the other hand, when you say, "Yes, I'll donate the stem cells in my blood to someone in need of a new immune system," and you don't, who do you hurt? Maybe yourself, in the same ways as above -- but you're also DESPERATELY hurting the patient and his or her entire family. You said you would, and now you're not following through.

Let me just say that my brother is fine. He has had some problems with donors, but he is on schedule for a transplant this fall (the spring transplant was a pipe dream). I can't really imagine the frustration and fear he and his wife and grown children have been dealing with during the donor issues, but I know my own frustration on his behalf, and I can multiply, and I also know about exponents. Therefore, I can guess their frustration and fear have been pretty big.

And I also know this: that just as any outsider doesn't know why someone doesn't write that novel or run that 10K, no one knows what makes a person not follow through with a commitment to donate.

This is important: There are any number of serious, vital reasons why a person might, in good faith, join a donor database and then not be able to follow through.

It's just...say so. When they contact you, say "Now is not a good time." Be upfront. Own the decision. Say "I thought I could, but I can't." That's what it is to act with integrity.

Of course, I've been talking to myself this whole time. Yes, I have continued to write the novel. I've also been revising short stories, working, and tending to other commitments. I recognize that as my brother's transplant nears, I may need to suspend work on my novel for a few months. And thanks to this rumination about commitment, I now know I need to do it with integrity: to make an explicit plan.

So thank you, anonymous donor who is enthusiastically participating in the transplant, and thank you also to the one who got cold feet. I have learned from this situation. I hope you have, too.