Just One Thing

One of my children’s favorite books was “Miss Rumphius,” by Barbara Cooney. For those who may not know the book, it is the charming tale about a little girl who tells her grandfather that she will grow up to travel the world and then live in a house by the sea.  Her grandfather agrees with her aspirations, but charges her to leave the world more beautiful than the way she found it.  The story documents her adventures and how she fulfills her grandfather’s edict.


I love the underlying themes to this story:  Live life to its fullest.  Seek adventure.  Grab hold of your vision and make it happen.  Make the world a better place.  Dreams are to be large and full, and in brilliant color- not to be inhibited by fear or self-doubt. 


My friend, Mary, is a Miss Rumphius.  She charges through the world, unafraid, full of expectation.  She samples food. She bathes in hot springs.  She visits worlds I know only by pictures.  With her quick grin and dancing Irish eyes, she always, always, always leaves the world a better place. 


My children are like Miss Rumphius.  They travel.  They have adventures in exotic, far away places.  And because while other children grew up listening to Madonna sing “Material Girl” my kids listened to Peter, Paul and Mary sing “No Easy Walk to Freedom,” they will leave the world a better place.


I, too, wanted to travel the world.  I wanted to live in a house by the sea.  Mostly, I wanted to change the world.  But sometimes life changes our plans, if not our priorities. More a George Bailey than a Miss Rumphius, I travel from my office to my apartment, and occasionally down the aisles of the grocery store.  I visit the sea on warm summer days, but leave when the sun sinks below the horizon.  My life is not adventurous, or exciting, or extraordinary.


Don’t get me wrong- I freely made the choices that have defined my life.  I do not regret trading travel tickets for diapers, music lessons and basketball games.  The world I have carved satisfied my heart’s true passions.  And truth be told, I no longer hunger for travel.  At the end of a long day, I crave the familiarity of my creaky recliner and the scent of my own pillow.  I have seen the rewards of investing time and energy into raising my children.  As I watch them evolve, I realize it truly is a wonderful life.


However, least I become too settled, I need to remind myself that regardless of our lot in life, we all share the responsibility to leave the world more beautiful.  This is not a responsibility relegated only to the young.  Miss Rumphius didn’t start scattering lupine seeds until she was old and gray.  It is up to all of us- no matter what age, what station of life we inhabit. We need not all sow lupine seeds, like Miss Rumphius.  We might sow seeds of hope, like George Bailey. 


As my sister Martha-Jean recently reminded me, the trick is to find out what one thing we can do.  A smile to a stranger, a cup of coffee for a coworker, feeding the hungry, saving the lost. It all starts out with one thing.  And the world becomes more beautiful.

Letting Go

Two days ago, I kissed my oldest daughter goodbye, and sent her on a plane to India.  I have watched this young woman work for over a year to raise the funds for this trip.  I have supported her, planned with her, and even helped her pack.  But as I stood at the airport’s security entrance and held her close, I could barely let her go.


Abigail.  It means “a father’s joy.”  She was conceived in desperation after our first pregnancy ended in miscarriage.  I was devastated after losing the first baby.  He had a face, and tiny hands.  He had a name.  I expected that everything would go as planned.  But it didn’t.  So as generations of other women before me have done, I silently picked up the shards of my heart and tried again, waiting…hoping…wanting.


 Three months later, I was pregnant again.  This time, all went well and in nine months and two days, we had a beautiful girl. Abigail.


She was a typical first child.  Cautious. Orderly. A natural leader.  She also had a flair for the dramatic and a very prominent stubborn streak. One day, my mother was visiting and I complained that Abby was not easily bending to my will.  My mother never offered unsolicited advice.  Except for this time.


“Stop trying to make Abby into who you want her to be, and help her to be who she is.”


My mind backtracked to a conversation I once had with a woodworker in Idaho.  He had carved an intricate baby’s rattle from a solid piece of wood.  Examining the free moving ball inside the bars that contained it, I asked him how he came up with the plans for his creations.  He told me that he always studied the wood until the object showed itself to him.  His carving only brought out what was already there from the beginning.


This began a new phase of parenting. Bring out the person who is already there.


And now the person who is inside of Abigail, my firstborn, my beautiful daughter, was leaving me to go to a part of the world I have only seen in books and television screens.  I wanted to hold her tightly.  To scream, “No! You cannot go!  Stay here, close by me, where it is safe.”  I wanted to again cuddle my soft pink baby in my arms, trace the curl of her cowlick with my finger and murmur sweet songs into her ear.


Instead, I breathed in deeply.  I kissed both her cheeks and her head, the way I have a hundred times over the past twenty-five years.  I looked deeply into her smoky eyes, said “I love you.” and let her go.  My part is finished.  She has become who she was meant to be. 


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