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Rainbows in the Clouds

I delivered this speech in early 2019 as my icebreaker speech for Toastmasters and I find it fitting to share it now:

[Singing]: When it looks like the sun don’t wanna shine anymore, God put a rainbow in the clouds…

Fellow toastmasters and honourable guests, I promise you there isn’t any more singing in my speech.

This is a line from an African American song which I like to remind myself of when my days seem cloudy – and I have had many cloudy days, but I’ve also had countless colourful rainbows.

For example, I’m eight years old. We’re at my grandparents’ place one late afternoon, and my sister and I are having the classic remote-control-fight. I want to watch Captain Majed, where he’s playing against Bassam, and I’m rooting for him to win, and my sister? She wants to watch The Secret Garden! And as I lose the battle, I watch my world come crumbling down in slow motion. I instantaneously break into heavy sobs – the kind where you can feel your heart banging against your chest. So, my grandfather takes me into his arms and tries to comfort me by saying he won’t let me go until I feel better. I look up to him in obvious frustration and utter confusion, because, “How is that going to solve my problem? How would that work?”. But he ignored the look on my face and kept wiping my tears away for what felt like an entire hour. Surprisingly, it actually worked, and it took me years to comprehend why this little trick of his worked every time, no matter how grave my loss; meaning, regardless of whether the soccer match I’m missing out on is a motion picture one or a live one. My grandfather was that kind of rainbow – he was there, and he was loving.

I’m in my late teens. I am forced to enroll into a university I dislike, study a major I don’t appreciate, and live within a new culture, and to top it off, my school friends had all left the country to pursue their studies. It was a miserable start. Then, three weeks into freshman year, my grandfather passes away, and my grandmother decided to move back to Cairo after his passing. I felt completely stranded. One day soon after, I coincidentally run into a professor who would become my lifetime mentor. She not only understood my eccentric nature but also my life calamities, and furnished me with her wisdom that would help me through undergrad and life. She would always tell me, “Nesma, life is what you make of it. So for instance, if you wish you’d studied architecture rather than interior design, then make your interior design studies into architecture,” and so I did. And I managed to get away with it so well that I graduated with honours.

So, “Life is what you make of it”...

I’m twenty-two, my mother had just had two consecutive knee surgeries, one in each knee. I was taking her to her first physiotherapy session, and although I was only pushing one person on a wheel chair, it felt as though the weight of the world was on my shoulders, and I felt unreasonably weak and broken that I could barely look up... You know, something inside of you breaks when one of your parents is ill. After her appointment, I was struggling to get us through a door, because my logic had failed to remind me to go in backwards, and I frustratingly tried to go in chair-first. I felt depleted, my face starting reddening, my eyes welled up, and I could feel the tears in my eyes… Despair had gotten the best of me. Out of the blue, another patient held the door open for me, and with that gesture, also lifted world’s weight and tossed it away. I was so touched by the divine timing of his simple act of courtesy, and that was enough to straighten up my back and put a smile on my face. It felt as though God was telling me this will soon be over.

What I’m saying is, we all have clouds, we always will. But we will also have people who lift us up. I believe it is our job to look for them on our dark days, remember them before our challenges, and call on to them. But more importantly, it is our job to try to be like them: to be a blessing in somebody else’s life.

Thank you.

[End speech].

The concept of rainbows in my clouds is something I have learned from the late Maya Angelou – may her soul Rest in Peace. It never ceases to amaze me how much this woman has and continues to help me through the rough and the easy. I can see her influence in my life and my being. I cannot find the words to describe the abundant gratitude, admiration, and love I have for this woman whom I have never met, and who has a lot of people loving her.

Struggling for almost two years now, I have had many a day when I lost sight of the rainbows in my clouds. I lost faith that things will get better—or rather, I lost interest in wanting them to get better. I often notice myself waiting for the day to pass. But, miraculously, I recently started regaining a desire for things to get better—a desire to survive and live and not waste my life. And just wanting that is a lot of progress for me.

This Tuesday, I had a conversation with a couple of friends, and what an impeccable rainbow it was. My friend reminded me to observe the miracles of this world and allow them to humble me. And I did just that.

And so it amazes me how one conversation could remind me of the magnificent, vast universe we live in and invite me to redirect my focus towards that. And it amazes how in this universe, a woman who lived hundreds of miles away and has now passed on, can still touch my life, on this tiny spot in the universe which I occupy. How amazing, and how miraculous is it that there are so many rainbows in our clouds, in our lives that are but a speck in this universe…

Alhamdulila, I must admit that I am witnessing progress in my recovery every day, and I must admit that humans are beautiful rainbows and that I am blessed to have many...


Video: I invite you to listen to Maya Angelou's speech: Rainbow in the Clouds.

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