Today I have a story. A true story, a happy story. Something of a love story, even. One that starts with my gramma, moves through me, continues on through Jordan, and hopefully keeps on going into forever. This is the kind of story that renews my hope that yes, one person can definitely make a difference. Even when the world wants to tell me, No. You’re much too small. Even when the world tries to make me feel powerless and weak. Even when the world tries to silence me. This story makes me feel like a warrior, equipped with only one weapon. And all I’ve got to do? Use it.
My aunt shared this memory at my grandmother’s funeral back in February. The two of them had been shopping together not long before my gramma left us, browsing the shelves of a Barnes & Noble, when Gramma started hunting for one very particular book. It was a children’s book called Miss Rumphius, written by Barbara Cooney. When asked why this specific book she’d explained that Miss Rumphius was much like she was, their adventures much the same. She must have wanted to visit with Miss Rumphius again; two wise and seasoned ladies, comparing a lifetime of notes.
Once my aunt had finished with her telling, my cousin took her place and in her soothing voice she read the adventures of Miss Rumphius to the quiet room. It wasn’t hard to see why Gramma had found herself among the pages.
The Most Important One
Alice Rumphius lived by the sea. Gramma lived by the sea.
Alice’s grandfather had come to America on a large ship. Gramma’s grandfather had come to America on a large ship.
Little Alice wanted to see faraway places. Little Marge wanted to see faraway places.
Alice traveled the world. Marge traveled the world.
Alice left a trail of friends everywhere she went. Marge left a larger trail of friends everywhere she went.
Alice hurt her back getting off of a camel in the Land of the Lotus-Eaters. Marge broke her hip stepping off of a curb in Russia.
Alice’s injuries slowed her adventures. Marge’s injuries slowed her adventures.
But there was one more similarity; the most important one. When Miss Rumphius was small and told her grandfather her dreams of traveling the world and living by the sea, he cautioned her to not forget the most important task. “You must do something to make the world more beautiful,” he told her. And so she did.
Lupines of Love
Miss Rumphius planted flowers, beautiful lupine flowers. My gramma planted love, beautiful healing love.
When I got home from the funeral one of the first things I did was order myself a copy of Miss Rumphius, sit down, and read it through Gramma’s eyes. I don’t know if she knew how she had made the world a more beautiful place, but her friends and family do. We can all smell her fragrant lupine blossoms through countless memories, gathered over almost a century. And when Jordan read through the book, she looked at me and said, “Mom, this is what we’ve been doing. But our lupines are kindness.”
I don’t live by the sea and my grandfather was born in Massachusetts. I have no burning desire to travel to distant lands and the only bone I’ve broken has been my pinky toe. But if I can be like Gramma in only one way, just one, then I would very much like it to be our love of lupines. Our love of love. And spreading it into as many cracks, crevices, and dark places as I can manage has somehow become one of the few things that truly matters.
Even When It’s Not
Spreading kindness felt like a very intentional challenge, coming directly from the hands of my guru. Because even though I could easily befriend anyone, it was never wise to cross me. My mind somehow gets sharper when in verbal combat. It can organize the facts with alarming clarity and easily remember each word you’ve spoken and, in the end, use them against you. But the thing about having a guru is that he’s always watching. Always there, just beyond sight. I don’t have to see him to feel him. I don’t have to touch him to know he’s close. I can just as easily sense his approval when I please him, as feel the sharp pangs of his disapproval when I don’t. He’s not asking for kindness only when it’s easy, but most especially when it’s not.
In retrospect, Instagram has been our test. Before Jordan and I started our pages we discussed how we’d manage this. How we had to behave in order to receive the much sought-after nod of approval. Could we find a way to be positive and encouraging, open and supportive, loving and authentic, honest and calm in this land of social media? Especially when we anticipated that not everyone would be so kind in return? I won’t lie, we had our doubts (we’re both fully aware of our shortcomings), but there was only one way to find out.
So we started sowing seeds.
And yes, some days it was hard. Both Jordan and I tend to have fire in us, fire that doesn’t like to be talked down to. Doesn’t like to be criticized. Doesn’t like to be taken advantage of. Doesn’t like unasked for advice. But we intentionally curbed all of that destructive ego fire and made the conscious choice to spread kindness instead of judgement. Kindness instead of anger. Kindness instead of blame. Kindness instead of indifference. We made sure to check in on people when they disappeared. We offered encouragement. And support. We started returning unkindness with kindness. Started saying I love you. And meaning it.
It’s Better To Be Kind Than To Be Right
I read this quote years ago, and it’s never left me: It’s better to be kind than to be right. To say that this is an enormous challenge for me is an understatement; I do love being right. But when I think of God’s eyes on me I get the feeling that She doesn’t care at all about how many verbal battles I win, but that she is keeping very close tally on how many times I give love. Seventy times seven, and love thy neighbor as thyself. They all boil down to essentially the same thing, don’t they? It’s always about the love and kindness.
One tiny seed of kindness at a time. And always with the thought, Would God approve? keeping me in check whenever emotions would flare, threatening to throw me off course.
And just like those lupines, the kindness spread. So many times Jord and I would look at each other in amazement. What’s happening? we’d whisper, eyes wide. The more love we gave, the more love we got, until the both of us realized the enormity of this lesson. Kindness somehow has the power to shape things like our anger never could. Somehow, it was even shaping us. And instead of always having to force the kindness in those less-than-kind-moments, it started to become more and more natural. Honestly, it was something of a small miracle.
And then? I tried to walk away from Instagram. I put up my farewell post fully expecting some goodbyes (because I’ve got really good people), but was wholly caught off guard when all that shared kindness came rushing back in. Like a tidal wave. Comments and messages of love that brought tears to my eyes. But while beautiful, also sad, because all I did was choose kindness. Did you read that? All I did was choose kindness. And if that’s all it takes, why aren’t we doing this more? To everyone. Every day. Maybe this is the weapon of a true warrior. It does take a certain kind of courage to give love when you don’t know what you’ll get in return.
I’m sure that in her ninety years, Gramma managed to displease someone. She wasn’t perfect; none of us are. But the legacy she left, the one she’s most remembered for, is her open heart and her willingness to share it. There’s a saying that while you cry when you enter the world, live your life in such a way that others cry when you leave. Gramma managed that simply by spreading her lupines of love.
A Colorful Sea of Lupines
I don’t remember if my gramma was able to locate Miss Rumphius that day, but I hope so. I hope she was able to read it at least one more time, and I hope she felt just as successful as Miss Rumphius as her days gently slowed to an end. And I hope that one day, when my days are also gently slowing to an end, I can ask myself this question: Did I spread enough kindness?
And looking back, all I want to see is a colorful sea of lupines.