When the World is Upside Down

Posted by on Mar 24, 2020

When my children were very young, I read them a book that stayed with me long after I stopped reading it to them. And now, whenever the world seems like it is upside down and I wonder what I can do, I think of this book.

Barbara Cooney’s Miss Rumphius tells a story of a young girl who would sit on her grandfather’s knee and listen to his stories of far away places and living by the sea. When he finished, she would say:

“When I grow up I too will travel to far away places, and when I grow old, I too, will live by the sea.”

 And her grandfather would say :

“That is all very well little Alice, but there is a third thing you must do.”

And she would ask: “‘What is that?” and he would say:

 “You must do something to make the world more beautiful.”  

Long after Alice stopped sitting on her grandfather’s knee she grew up and followed her dream to travel to far away places and live by the sea. But, as the author tells us, “she was not perfectly happy”  because she had not done the third thing— she had not done something to make the world more beautiful.

Almost one year passed and Alice became quite ill. From her bed where she lay, all she could do was watch as the lupine flowers outside her window grew tall and rich with color. Finally, after a long winter’s time, she was able to walk. One afternoon she was able to walk “up and over the hill where she had not been in a very long time.” 

“I don’t believe my eyes!” she cried… [f]or there on the other side of the hill was a large patch of blue and purple and rose-colored lupines. “It was the wind that brought the seeds from my garden here! And the birds must have helped!” 

And it was then, that Miss. Rumphius knew what she could do to the make the world more beautiful. All that summer she wandered over the fields scattering and tossing the lupine seeds near and far. Some thought she was crazy, but by the next spring lupines were everywhere. They bloomed blue and purple, rose-colored and beautiful. Bright patches grew along the highways and down the lanes and Miss. Rumphius had done the third, most important thing of all.

I loved this book then. I love it now. Because it reminds me that, even when the world is upside down, it is the simplest of things that make it more beautiful.