a better place

Updated: Jul 19

Hi there.


Nice to see you again.


First of all, wow. What a crazy, crazy time. It all feels so surreal: Broadway gone dark, countries essentially out of commission, empty toilet paper shelves...We’re all living in a movie that would likely rake in big bucks at the box office. Except none of us are going to the movies these days because we're afraid of touching any surfaces.


A lot of us aren’t doing much of anything these days, other than probably listening to and reading enough news to provoke more anxiety than we need. But my goal today isn’t to talk about COVID-19, or offer advice for how to handle all of it.


Well, perhaps in an offhand way. This week, I keep returning to a heartening thought – one that I think would be helpful for all of us to remember during a time when we’re not quite sure what to do with ourselves. This thought is the moral of one of my most beloved childhood books: Miss Rumphius.


At the beginning of the book, young Alice is talking with her great aunt, who has lived what Alice believes is an exciting life:


“When I grow up,” I tell her, “I too will go to faraway places and come home to live by the sea.”

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

“What is that?” I ask

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


Little Alice grows up and travels the world and makes her way to a home by the sea, but she still hasn't figured out how to make the world more beautiful. Then, after one long winter, she notices some lupines outside her window and realizes that the wind must have blown the seeds. Inspired, she sprinkles lupine seeds all over her town – and makes the world more beautiful.

My father, whom I will always refer to as Papa Wolff, was recently in a local newspaper for his work on the Plaque Project, a fundraiser for the Trumansburg Conservatory of Fine Arts. Each person who donates $25 to the conservatory receives a dated plaque for their home.


As my father said in his interview for the article: “The village is proud of its history, and I just think that’s just a wonderful thing to enumerate old houses at an age when they’re just disappearing.” (The man does love the word "just" – though not as much as "juxtaposition." That's one of his favorites.)


The quintessential line in the article is this: “I feel very blessed with the talents I’m given and the family I have, so I’m happy to do what my mother told us to leave the world a better place.”


He learned it from his mother, and now both he and my mom have instilled that idea in me. Leave the world a better place.


My ways are very small at the moment: some homemade birthday cards at a time when so few people send snail mail anymore, sharing these little missives that reach a handful of appreciative readers, and my work with the National Stuttering Association. Last week, I had the honor of interviewing an Honor – a judge from California who had never before shared his story of stuttering – and capturing his inspiring words in an online article that many people who stutter will read and undoubtedly feel empowered by. I will never forget that interview.


In a time when we’re all scrambling for essential goods, when it feels very “every man for himself” due to recommended social distancing, it’s easy to turn inward and forget to keep one side of your face turned outward, toward the sun.


But I know we can all do it, somehow. Maybe it means calling people we love more often to check in and share some much-needed laughter. Maybe it means sharing information in ways that empower people rather. Maybe it means stocking up on snacks because you know your husband will ask if you have any, and you want to be prepared. (Is that just me?...Okay, fill in your own beautiful-making here.)


Instead of only looking for a better place to ride out this mayhem, we can all leave the world a better, more beautiful place.


To quote, for the umpteenth time, my #1, Audrey Hepburn:


“The best thing to hold onto in life is each other.”

Thanks for stopping by. And keep sharing your stories, because someone wants to hear them. Especially now, when we’re all cooped up.

*Another shameless plug for my new IG: @flipswitchbook! Something else we all need right now. Hope to see you there!

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