Most of Maya Angelou’s life’s work was rooted in her love for others. To millions she was (and is) a precious orb of light in an otherwise dark room. An influence to the likes of Barack Obama, Alicia Keys and Tupac Shakur, one of her firmest intentions was to always be “a rainbow in somebody else’s cloud.”

Be a Rainbow in Somebody Else's Cloud

Be a Rainbow in Somebody Else’s Cloud

Prepare yourself so that you can be a rainbow in somebody else’s cloud. Somebody who may not look like you, may not call God the same name you call God—if they call God at all—you see? And may not eat the same dishes prepared the way you do, may not dance your dances, or speak your language. But be a blessing to somebody; that’s what I think.

– Dr. Maya Angelou

How do we be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud? We offer ourselves to them. Our whole selves. We realize that we were put here for a greater purpose than to just serve ourselves. That we were put here to also be of service to others. To extend nourishment as much as we hoard it.

Have you ever been financially broke — and yet, almost by magic, somebody was there to lend you money? Or instead experienced the death of a loved one — while one person stayed with you patiently through your grief? These people were your rainbows.

And if you haven’t had an experience like this, then that is all the more reason to give someone what you wish someone would have given you in a time of crisis.

Angelou’s rainbow, and how she found her voice

During her five years of muteness as a child, one of Maya Angelou’s rainbows was her grandmother. “You’re going to be a teacher,” she told Angelou. “Sister, you’re going to teach all over this world.” Maya thought in her head at the time, “This poor, ignorant woman – doesn’t she know I will never speak?”

Yet, in her lifetime, Maya Angelou indeed did lecture at leading educational institutions around the world; her grandmother was right.

When we have no belief left in ourselves, sometimes we need somebody else to provide that belief.

Sometimes we need a rainbow in a cloud of our own.

Fill your own cup, that it may overflow

And it’s easy to confuse being a rainbow in someone else’s cloud with being a people-pleaser. But the difference between the two is that the latter demands too much of you, while the former demands just enough. People-pleasers expend themselves by giving away food even when they are still hungry themselves. If you are being a rainbow, however, you aren’t doing so at the expense of yourself.

Rainbows don’t replace clouds; they simply shine through a fraction of them to say “I’m here.”

Regarding the Bible quotation, “My cup runneth over,” Iyanla Vanzant said that in order to keep your cup full when giving to others, you have to make it clear that “What comes out of the cup is for y’all; what’s in the cup is mine.” It’s the idea that when your cup is so full it’s overflowing, you can give the excess to others guilt-free because you already have enough.

The many faces of giving

Just because you are not expending all of your energy to get rid of the cloud or stop the rain or drag the sun out, that does not mean you are not doing enough for the person involved. Sometimes all we humans require is an attentive listener, a positive quote to read, or a cup of coffee made by another hand. These small gestures are enough.

Remember that you were put here to be your best self for a purpose bigger than yourself. Sometimes we forget this duty. We treat it like a burden. Stop treating it like one. Find someone in your life who you know to be struggling and, without expecting anything in return, be a rainbow in their cloud.

Only you know how.

In the words of Thic Nhat Hanh: “The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.”

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