Orlando R. Barone

is a writer in Doylestown

One of the most popular words among students at the business school where I teach and coach is sure. It's right up there with "no worries," the all-purpose way to dispel anxiety and assert that you have caused no inconvenience, no problem, no offense.

Sure is easy to text and easier to say. Such a monosyllabic tidbit, and yet, in a world where words so often lose their starch and collapse into limp banality, sure maintains its punch. By itself it bucks me up, settles my nerves, allows me to move on to the next thing.

Will you be there? "Sure," you say, and I know you'll show up. You needn't yell it; this word is most effective spoken quietly, quickly.

Most sentences containing it are also short and hard to misunderstand. If you tell me to "make sure," I have been alerted. I need to take additional steps before proceeding. If you ask, "Are you sure?" I press a mental pause button and check my facts or my suppositions.

The word seems absolute. I'm either sure or not. Yet you sometimes suggest degrees of surety. You might very well indicate the "surest" way to succeed - or fail - and I get to weigh my options.

You may go negative with "Don't be too sure." Now you are taking sides, telling me to question my certainty, to doubt my conclusions. You sense a concern that I have missed, and it behooves me to look into it.

If you speak of a "sure thing," you are expressing a conviction that something will definitely happen, that nothing will go wrong. The trouble is, sure things often aren't. When I hear this expression, I'm put on high alert. If I'm smart, those two words - sure thing - will keep me from betting the farm on an outcome I thought was preordained.

Davy Crockett is credited with the pithy "Be sure you're right and then go ahead." The maxim could be advising you to verify your facts, check the GPS lest you drive off a cliff. Or it might be a matter of right and wrong, a caution to examine the morality of what you propose to do. Either way, the challenge to "be sure" has a peculiar, highly persuasive power.

Many years ago I met the woman of my dreams. I fell in love with her sometime during our first date on a distant New Year's Eve. I think it happened at midnight when she resisted my second attempt to kiss her lips. I can still feel the push against my ribs and the sudden realization that I never wanted to be pushed in that direction again.

Still, I became wobbly. This forever thing, it lasts a long time. Was it true love? Was it the real thing? Yadda yadda. However, since she was perfectly willing to walk away from the relationship, I found myself violently unwilling to let her do that. One push was enough. I proposed.

Doubts still haunted my brain and, mainly, my stomach, and then our wedding day arrived. I awoke strangely quietened inside. Soon enough I was in the sacristy of the church awaiting the call to enter the nave and meet my intended - an activity lengthened by the fact that no one had driven my mother to the church and she had to take a cab, but that is really another story.

At length, I walked into the church, turned and saw my bride, gorgeous in white, her raven hair and lowered eyes just visible beneath the veil. In that moment I whispered the words I've never retracted, never even momentarily questioned.

"I'm sure."

It was my soul nodding its head, making the most profound statement possible. And, yes, 47 years later, its truth has outlasted every sorrow and every joy that life has served up. It's the reason that every New Year's Eve, precisely at midnight, I make it my business to kiss her tenderly upon the lips. Twice.