Her eyes sparkled like stars in the sky, her smile lit up a room like the sun, her heart was open, and her love unconditional. My friend, Gigi.  She was the kind of friend who supported and encouraged you when she was the one in need.  Gigi battled cancer throughout most of our friendship.  And battle she did.  She battled it with faith in God and joy.  It was difficult to believe Gigi was sick because she didn't look sick and spent as much time as possible loving, giving, laughing, and dancing.  She never hesitated to thank God for the many blessings in her life, and always counseled me to have faith--that "doubt is the thief of God's blessings."  I remember when Gigi called to tell me she had breast cancer.  And I remember years later when she called to tell me that her breast cancer metastasized to her bones.  Throughout this time we would attend church together and I would watch in amazement as she praised God.  I had no understanding.  Although I was a Christian at the time, my faith was weak and I was a "woe is me" disciple, so I did not recognize or understand Gigi's joy.  I found her circumstances depressing and could not figure out why she wasn't in bed cradled in a fetal position.  But Gigi had that fire on the inside.  She knew something I didn't--that you may not be able to choose whether illness befalls you, but you can often choose whether you suffer or live joyfully.  Gigi chose to live joyfully.  I had the pleasure of seeing her raise her children, find love and get married during her battle with cancer.  By no means was her journey easy, but she lived her life with a fierce determination to make it as rich and meaningful as possible.

I have learned that life's lessons are sometimes presented before we need them.  Rarely does a week go by when I don't think of Gigi and all she taught me about living joyfully in the midst of illness.  It has been seventeen years since Gigi died a physical death, but her legacy of joy lives on.  What a gift!

I had the pleasure of attending a jazz concert in Paris headlined by a band from New Orleans.  The band's goal was to show France that the music of New Orleans was not lost with Hurricane Katrina. During the concert, most of the French audience was very reserved, displaying little outward manifestation of enjoyment.  From my experience living among the French, they can be having a joyous time but are typically more reserved than Americans about showing it.  Well, needless to say, the Americans in the audience had no such reservations.  Initially, we tried to blend in with the French by mimicking them--we gently patted our feet.  But the band was asking for more.  Accustomed to playing for American audiences, they began clapping their hands, swinging their instruments from side to side, and gesturing for the audience to follow their lead.  Seeing the disappointment on their faces when no one joined in, the Americans gave them what they were seeking.  We stood, clapped our hands, and swung from side to side.  The band started high-stepping and swinging more, thanking us for joining in.  Meanwhile, most of the French audience watched us, smiling politely.  At the time, we were a little embarrassed given the setting.  We could just hear the French saying "those Americans!"  But then the band told the audience that the participation made them feel loved and boosted their spirits because many of them lost everything after Hurricane Katrina.  All was well.

After the concert, a few of us Americans walked to the metro to catch our trains home.  As we stood on the platform, a group of French people who attended the concert walked up to us and expressed how much they enjoyed the concert and our dance with the band. When we told them we thought they were offended, they said they were actually thrilled.  They said they wanted to jump up and dance with us, but did not do so because they tend to be reserved.  But then right there on the metro platform, they asked us to teach them how to swing.  Then and there, we made our own music, and they danced and danced.  And then we noticed that the people on the opposite platform were dancing along, too. It was a sight to behold.  The music of the night created joy that, in the end, united people.  Nothing else mattered.




Is it raining where you are? It seems like it has been raining everywhere lately.  Of course, the rain has been heavier in some places than in others.  Some got drizzle, some got a steady rain, and some got torrential rains. I don't know about you, but I used to dislike rain.  It's wet, and things look dark and dreary in the rain.  Driving in the rain can be treacherous, dirt becomes mud, and so on, and so on.  Plus, I'm a Black woman who has hair issues when it rains.  One of my aunts used to call rain "God's liquid sunshine."  That sounded cute, but it didn't work for me at the time.

What a difference time and life circumstances have made in my appreciation of rain.  To say I like rain now would be a stretch.  But sometimes, when it's drizzling, I purposely delay putting on my rain hat or opening my umbrella until I feel a few drops.  Yes, even with my Black woman's hair issues.  Why?  Because those few drops have the ability to jolt me into the moment and remind me then and there that I'm alive.  Of course, I know I'm alive since I'm breathing, but sometimes I am so focused on what's going on in my life or what I must do that I need a reminder to be in the here and now.   And since we need rain for things to grow, it's difficult not to appreciate the steady rains--as long as they don't last for days, right?  Also, I think some things just look better in the rain.  For example, I think San Francisco and Paris are more beautiful and romantic when it's raining.  But torrential rains are quite another matter.  Recently, we've seen the damaging effects in the US, Haiti, and Pakistan, among other places.  It's often difficult to find anything redeeming about torrential rains when they leave death and destruction in their wake.

I find that the figurative rains in my life often have the same effects as the literal rains.  The drizzles get my attention.  The steady rains stimulate growth--that is, if I'm smart enough to learn the lessons.  And sometimes when life's rains make things look dark and dreary, with time I am able to gain better perspective on things.  Although the torrential rains may wreak havoc, sometimes it's because I haven't learned a lesson from the steady rains.  Or, sometimes it has nothing to do with something I have or haven't done, but is meant to take me to another level--to strengthen me for new opportunities.  When I was growing up, I used to hear older people say, "There's never been a storm that didn't end."  That's true.  And while I can't tell you I have grown to like the rain, I can tell you that I certainly appreciate the sunshine more after the rain.