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 continually renews my hope in humans. The kind of story that reminds me how one person can most definitely make a difference, even in a world that never tires of telling me: No. You’re much too small. A world that tries to make me feel powerless and weak. A world that tries to silence me, my voice, my compassion. This story makes me feel like a warrior, equipped with only one very small but very powerful weapon. And all I’ve got to do? Use it.
My aunt shared a sweet memory at my grandmother’s funeral back in February. The two of them had recently been shopping together, browsing the shelves of a Barnes & Noble, when Gramma started hunting for one very particular book. The object of her search was a children’s book called Miss Rumphius, written by Barbara Cooney. When asked why this specific book, she’d explained that Miss Rumphius had always reminded her of herself, their journeys and adventures being much the same.
Once my aunt had finished with her story, my cousin took her place at the microphone. In her soft and soothing voice, she read the adventures of Miss Rumphius to the quiet room. For all of us that had known Gramma so well, it wasn’t at all hard to see how she’d spotted herself among the brightly illustrated pages. But why was this book so important to my gramma now? Why did Miss Rumphius reappear only in her final days? In retrospect, I wonder if some hidden part of Gramma knew that her time here was drawing to a close. Maybe she wanted to enjoy one last visit with her old friend Miss Rumphius; two wise and seasoned ladies, comparing a lifetime of notes. Maybe she was even wondering if her story would end just as brilliantly. And with an equally humbling explosion of colors.
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 similarity of all. When Miss Rumphius was small and shared with her grandfather the dreams she had 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 never forgetting his advice, she did.
Miss Rumphius planted flowers, beautiful lupine flowers. My gramma planted love, beautiful healing love.
Love of Lupines
One of the first things I did after the funeral was to order myself a copy of Miss Rumphius. As soon as it arrived, I sat down and read it very carefully through my grandmother’s eyes. Did she–could she ever–truly understand how she had made the world a more beautiful place? And was it intentional, or just a consequence of who she was and the life she’d lived? I can’t know if she realized the impact she’d made in her lifetime, but her friends and family do. We can all smell her fragrant lupine blossoms through countless memories, gathered over almost a century. As for me, I know the world feels a little less beautiful and a little less fragrant without her physical presence in it. But those lupines of hers? I hope to smell them for the rest of my days.
I don’t live by the sea, and my grandfather was born in Massachusetts. There’s no burning desire in me 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–as usual–directly from the hands of my guru. Because even though it’s always been easy for me to be kind to those I care about, it hasn’t always (ever) been easy to be kind to all the rest. It was much easier to judge and to criticize than it was to find love in my heart for someone I deemed less than deserving. While I’ve always been a very nice person, I’ve also always (at times) been a very not-so-nice person. And just because making friends comes easy to me, that doesn’t mean I haven’t cultivated my fair share of enemies along the way too. So my rules for spreading kindness were kind of vague, general, and unimpressive: Give kindness when you wanted. To whom you wanted. Period.
But the humbling truth 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, and 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. And spreading kindness under all circumstances was asking a lot of me. Maybe too much. I mean, it’s quite possible that my grandmother’s loving ways hadn’t trickled down to her granddaughter. Did I even have it in me?
In retrospect, Instagram was my first test. Before Jordan and I even started our pages, we discussed how we’d manage them. How we had to behave in order to receive the guru’s 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 all while living in the 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 of kindness. And love. Anywhere and everywhere.
And yes, some days it was incredibly hard. Like I-need-to-walk-away-and-take-a-deep-breath-so-I-don’t-murder-someone hard Both Jordan and I tend to have fire in us that doesn’t like to be talked down to. Fire that doesn’t like to be criticized or taken advantage of, and it most especially doesn’t like unasked for advice. But we intentionally curbed all of that destructive ego fire and made the conscious choice to give kindness instead of judgment, anger, blame, or indifference. We made sure to check in on people when they disappeared, and we constantly 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 only 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. And not only when someone loves you back, but also when someone slaps your cheek (or even both of them) too.
So I kept at it; we both did. We focused on 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 to each other. Because the more love we gave, the more love we got, until the both of us realized the enormity of our 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 nothing short of a small miracle.
And then? I tried to walk away from Instagram. I put up my farewell post fully expecting some goodbyes 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, then 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, probably many someones. 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 grandmother 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.