Sometimes, bad things happen in the world. You read the news, and you feel the impact of whatever has happened on a real, personal level. It knocks you off balance, and you feel it all day, maybe even for multiple days. We could talk about the stress it causes, being able to read about every terrible thing that happens, everywhere, right away. We could also talk about relative merits of empathy, and caring what happens to people on the other side of the country or even the world. But that’s not what we’re talking about today. Today, we’re talking about cupcakes.
It was one of those days. Whatever had been in the news had set the world askew a little bit, and I was pushing through, trying my best to maintain faith in the world around me. We were teaching the last session of a course series, and it had been a great group – really engaged and thoughtful, and I had promised to bring them cupcakes on the last session, so despite the dark cloud that had settled on my day, I stopped off on the way to the session at the cupcake shop and dutifully bought a box of a dozen brightly colored confections. (Quick plug here for a great local business – Stuffed Cakes is a fantastic little cake shop in our neck of the woods – they make cakes and cupcakes that are as delicious as they are beautiful!)
It was, however, an early session, and a holiday weekend to boot, so attendance was a bit light, and at the end of the session, I had 3/4 of a box of cupcakes still in my possession. It was warm outside, and we didn’t want to leave them in the car. We also didn’t particularly want to take them home, where we would then have to live with the effects of our two kids, hopped up on 8 or 9 cupcakes worth of sugar. We had meetings all over the city that day, and we carried that pretty box around, everywhere we went.
At every office we visited, we offered cupcakes to everyone we saw – clients, yes, but also an insurance agent and his staff, the server who brought us our lunch, the staff working in a couple of retail shops – everyone.
Something interesting happened. Every time we offered someone a cupcake, whether they took it or not, the room got a little brighter. Suddenly, we started to see genuine smiles, and it wasn’t about sugar and colored frosting. (Okay, maybe it was a little about the frosting…) It was about that moment of connection, about being given an unexpected gift by a complete stranger, and as the day passed and the box emptied, I started to realize that the dark cloud was lifting from my day. I realized that I was smiling, and at some point, it stopped being an effort.
Yes, bad things happen, sometimes people hurt one another for reasons that you and I may never understand. But if we aren’t careful, we can let that turn us inward – to better protect ourselves from a dark, scary world. Or we can hand out cupcakes – a few dollars worth of flour and sugar and food color (and I’m sure a baker would tell you, love,) and we can rebuild the bridges between ourselves and the strangers around us and realize how very many of them would rather smile at us and tell us about their day and pick out the cupcake that speaks just to them.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers. The world still breaks my heart and terrifies me and makes me want to crawl under the covers and stay there, on a regular basis. I don’t know how to fix that. But I do know that there is a little bit of magic in the ability to brighten up my day, and so many others, in a cascade of tiny moments with such a small investment, and it has never yet failed me – it works every time.
And a world that has magic that works every time that nearly anyone can afford? That’s a world I can make my peace with.