“You must do something to make the world more beautiful.”
Such is the instructions given to a granddaughter by her grandfather in the children’s book Miss Rumphius, by Barbara Cooney. Little Alice loves hearing her grandfather’s tales of adventures in far away places, and she declares that when she is older, she too will travel the world, and then come back to live by the sea. Her grandfather, however, has one more addition to her life’s plan: Alice must do something to make the world more beautiful. She ultimately succeeds in these goals, and as Alice grows older, she continues her grandfather’s tradition by instilling in the next generation the importance of making the world a more beautiful place.
When I was a child, I adored Miss Rumphius, and my copy of this book was well worn and well loved for many years. I loved the spirit of adventure and wanderlust in Alice, and I dreamed of the day when I would be old enough to travel the globe, work in libraries, visit tropical islands, climb mountains, ride camels, and make new friends all around the world. Alice was the woman I wanted to become, and in re-reading this book as an adult, it is striking just how much I took Alice’s story to heart. I too love to travel, and while I have been fortunate to have visited many different countries during my globetrotting, the list of places still to see grows ever longer with each passing year. I’ve always loved the water, and my dream for my later years is to find a cosy little home on the ocean, preferably one with a room just for books, and spend the summers swimming amongst the waves and the winters watching the storms crash against the shore.
However, there is one more thing I must do if I am to truly live like Alice, and I can’t think of a worthier goal than to try and leave this world a more beautiful place than the one in which I started. Whether or not I succeed has yet to be determined, but I’m not going to give up on that goal anymore than I would give up on my little home by the sea. The world needs more beauty, and when I see Miss Rumphius on my young cousin’s bookshelf, I smile to myself knowing that this powerful and poignant message is being passed on to the next generation of readers. I may not know yet what my contribution to the world’s beauty will be, but I do know that I’ll think of something. In the meantime, I have camels to ride and mountains to climb.