Posted on 07 May 2012

My thoughts are all over the place. Last week I concentrated on painting the new shutters for our old house – three coats on each side of 16 shutters (8 pairs) and as I painted and sanded, painted and sanded, I talked a little in French to those who passed by my work place on the Esplanade. The men most often told me how to do the job. The women wished me “bonne courage.” One day, my friend, Rosemary joined me with a paint brush and time passed more quickly. For two glorious days, the sun shone brightly, drying the paint in minutes. By the end of the week, all was done and I moved on to my next job – preparing the rental house for new tenants. And I wonder why I have little time to write.

I received an interesting email towards the end of last week. A woman who I’ve never met but who has been reading my blog since 2007 (I checked) sent a note saying she identified with my last blog, specifically the part where I long “to try something new that might make my life more pleasurable”. She notes that she too has a rich life but sometimes she feels empty and mentions Jane Goodall, British primatologist, ethologist, anthropologist, and UN Messenger of Peace. My reader tells me that she saw Goodall on television being interviewed by a child who asked her what advice she would give to young people. She said, among other things, “If you have a nice life, it means you have received a lot from the world. Give back a little, it makes you feels so good, and it spreads this attitude, which is wonderful.”

Goodall’s words reminded me of a child’s story by Barbara Cooney “Miss Rumphius” which I gave my daughter when she was a little girl. The story was about a child who lived with her grandfather. When she told him that she wanted to visit faraway places when she grew up and then come back to live by the sea, her grandfather said that she must do one more thing: she must do something to make the world more beautiful. (This book won the 1983 National Book Award for Children’s Books.)

I link the idea of giving something back to the world and doing something to make it more beautiful. From this thought, I leap to another. A number of years ago I watched a television show on personal finances and budgeting and the woman giving the lecture said that everyone should allocate a percentage of his or her salary to charity. No matter how little or much you make, such a contribution should not break you. (Did I do this? No.)

Strangely or perhaps not, I had been thinking about how I can best give something back when I received the email from “my” reader. (I have written so little in the past few years that I am surprised that she still looks for me.) I will never be able to give what Goodall has given. She has been travelling for 300 days a year since 1992 (I think) lecturing on conservation and animal welfare issues. I cannot do something as far reaching as my sister did. After a cancer scare, she was instrumental in having “Wellspring”, a cancer support center built in her city.

What can I give? What can I do to make the world more beautiful (beyond my children)?

When Miss Rumphius grew old, she had back problems and was bed-ridden for a number of months. She would lie in bed and look out her window at the lupines blooming in her garden, worrying about what she could do to make the world more beautiful. When at last she was well enough to walk, she discovered that her lupines had spread to places beyond her garden – the seeds carried by wind and insects. She ordered a large number of lupine seeds from a catalogue and filled her pockets with them, tossing them here, there, and everywhere when she went walking. The people of her village thought her a crazy old woman but the next season, the countryside was alive with lupine blossoms.

What is this simple tale suggesting? That we don’t need a plan? That if we keep our eyes open, we will see how to add beauty to our environment? That it doesn’t have to be any great thing?

Do the small, seemingly insignificant albeit loving things we do for others count? As I paint my shutters and send a cheque to my sister’s centre am I doing enough? I think that I could do something larger by sitting and writing more often and openly but here I sigh and think “who do you think you are? You are such a simple person. You always write about the obvious.” My friend Susan, my mentor, who has a brilliant mind, says it is difficult to write the obvious. Although I know she doesn’t hand out compliments often, I have a hard time believing her here. I wish I could trust her or, more to the point, trust myself.

My mother said once that she did the best she could with what she had. I want to say this too.

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