In the middle of the night poor little Sara Crewe, heroine of A Little Princess, wakes up to find her attic bedroom is no longer barren and cold. Her neighbor, Ram Dass, has transformed her “Bastille cell” while she slept. She wakes up not only in beauty and comfort, but realizing someone is helping, someone knows.
This scene transformed my life.
I was seven or eight years old when I first read Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1905 classic, and there were some parts I didn’t understand yet. But when I got to that scene, I recognized the power and pleasure of being the giver. Forget being a princess — I wanted to be Ram Dass, right then and there. I put down the book and, while my mother was in the back yard, I rearranged the living room. It wasn’t quite the overhaul Ram Dass had given the attic, but Mom seemed authentically delighted, and didn’t move the furniture back for at least two days. I was caught up in the thrill of surprise transformation, of being the giver of unexpected joy (or so I imagined).
That was just the beginning.
For the next four decades I made over dozens of spaces while my friends and family were out — — and they were always pleased or kind enough to react as Sara did. Throughout every project I’d imagine their happy faces, imagine their lives being changed by the beauty and functionality I’d tried to bring to their homes, basements, gyms, offices, yards, garages, driveways, barns and apartments. I’m not so sure, looking back, that my efforts were always welcome. But they never let me see anything but joy.
Encouraged by their responses, I eventually started a design firm, Metaphor Interiors — named so for its literary origins in A Little Princess. For two years I had dream clients who told me what they wanted, then went off to work or on vacation while I changed their homes. I had carte blanche alone in their homes all day — these were truly Ram Dass Deals. My clients came home excited to see the changes, and applauded whatever I’d done.
I took all that for granted. After all, Sara Crewe had been ecstatically happy with everything that had been done in her absence. She hadn’t complained about the tapestry threadcount, or asked that nails not be placed in walls. Of course not. She was just grateful. Incredibly grateful.
After awhile, I became more aware of the real world of interior design. Then I turned my creative energies, appreciation for sensory immersion, and passion for transformation to this beautiful thing we call LitWits. Helping kids hear, feel, smell, taste, and see those great moments in books — the moments that change a heroine’s life. A reader’s life.
Like Sara Crewe’s wake-up moment.
This afternoon, watching the kids in our Little Princess workshop transform jam jars with “sooty” burlap and sparkly lace, diamonds and crowns, pearls and a “spread the love” tag, I had my own wake-up moment. We weren’t just teaching the kids that you can always be “sweet inside” no matter what labels you wear, or how you dress, or whether you’re destined for the “upper crust” or not. We weren’t just having fun making silly puns about Sara transcending sticky situations, getting into jams with Miss Minchin, and admiring sunsets beyond the window jamb. We weren’t just decorating, and we weren’t just creating a symbol of transformation.
We were sharing a bigger idea — that giving is sweet.
Do you remember a literary wake-up moment that changed your life? We hope you’ll share it in the Comments!