Because we are all complex beings, it would be difficult to isolate one moment, one act, one statement of our entire life that defines us. And why would we want to do this? Why reduce what is rich and vibrant to a single act? Our life is always filled with possibility, and it is this possibility that makes living so thrilling. We never really know what will happen from one minute to the next, and in that not knowing we can find hope and solace. Even when we’ve been inundated by a tsunami of misfortune, we can hold hope that the unfortunate string of events might improve. That we’ll have better luck next time. Turn a corner next week. Find a solution next month.
And yet, whenever I think of my now nine-year-old granddaughter Poppy, I will remember Wednesday afternoon.
Wednesday was Poppy’s birthday, and we spent the afternoon celebrating. First, we bought a dairy-and-gluten-free cake at Mariposa Bakery in Oakland, then went off in search of 25 cupcakes for her class celebration on Thursday. We capped the afternoon with our traditional “shopping spree” at the Gap.
Jonah, Poppy’s dad, invented the celebratory shopping spree when he was three. Traditionally, we’d pick an item—for example socks—head to the local discount store, where he could spend a given amount of money on any socks he chose. I can still see the two of us leaning over the sock bin, holding up a pair. “What about these? I’d ask.
“I don’t like the colors,” he might reply. Or, “Super. Let’s buy them.”
Our modest shopping sprees offered Jonah a sense of freedom and abundance– freedom to choose and create an abundance of future choices each morning when he got dressed.
So when Amelie and Poppy each turned three, we inaugurated our tradition of Gap shopping sprees. Instead of a set amount of money, somewhere along the way, we decided collectively the birthday girl could select five items, as long as no one item was “too expensive.” And since the girls were born precisely a year and a half apart, the half-birthday girl could choose two.
At the end of an hour in the local Gap store on Wednesday, Poppy had selected a pair of leggings, a tunic, a hat, and a pair of shorts, all in a symphony of pastel colors. “This is all I can find today,” she announced. “I don’t mind only getting four. There’s always tomorrow,” she added philosophically.
Amie had picked a pair of denim overalls, a floral cropped sweatshirt, and a white T-shirt she thought complimented the overalls, and was having a hard time eliminating one item. Although I found it difficult to honor the spree rules—after all, what was 20more dollars?—I was standing strong. Part of the fun of the spree was the challenge of not exceeding the designated number of items.
By the time we stood in line to pay, Amie still hadn’t made her decision.Then, just as we reached the cashier, Poppy turned to her sister, “Amie, since I’m only getting four things, you can get the white shirt as my fifth,” she chirped.
Amie beamed, and I wrapped my arms around Poppy and whispered in her ear, “You are so kind and generous. I will always remember this moment.”
And I will. That kind of spontaneous generosity may be a single act, but it is at the same time so much more. It is the outpouring of a very large heart in a very young girl, and although it is just one act, it is also formative and predictive. Formative because her generosity made the three of us all happy. And predictive because it demonstrated Poppy’s capacity for kindness, which I imagine I’ll witness again in the future.