Ever so slowly she entered the room with the aid of a walker, wearing a vibrant red and white muumuu, complete with a kitschy straw hat and festive yellow lei.

Her companions were well-versed in the routine, and headed straight to the front of the room to position her chair to face the audience. The room was filled with tourists and locals Canadians alike, all eagerly awaiting the “Aunties of Molokai” who gathered every Friday night with ukuleles to play the old Hawaiian songs.

With purpose, she settled into her seat, gracefully raised her arms, artfully positioned her hands, and within the first few notes of the song she was already lost in the rhythm – dancing the hula in her seat.

It was a privilege to watch. The look in her eyes, and the expression on her face was of pure, uninhibited joy; she had gloriously transported to her happy place, and had taken those of us who were watching, right along with her.

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I was mesmerized by her. I wondered how long it had been since she was able to stand to perform these gentle Hawaiian stories. With every song, she appeared to become more and more connected to the moment; her movements and the music seemed to have become one. The tears rolled down my cheeks with their own kind of rhythm – I couldn’t stop photographing her. The essence of joyful living was being performed before me, and I had a front row seat.

After an enchanting evening of music, some coconut shrimp and a little cavorting with the locals, it was time for me to call it a night. On my way to the car, who was sitting on a bench waiting for her escort, but my favorite Auntie. I paused for a moment and took the opportunity to thank her for giving us all the privilege of watching her dance. She invited me to sit down beside her.

I had a thousand questions jostling for position my head, but the one I wanted to know most of all was about her story… and as graciously as she danced, she offered it to me.

She grew up on Molokai. She’s outlived two husbands, as well as some of her children. She still lived on her own, and except for the period of time she was recovering from her stroke, she has come to dance every Friday night. “As long as there’s someone who’s willing to bring me, I’ll be here”, she said.

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From our few moments on the bench together it was easy to see that this wise woman had lived a full-color life – with the kinds of the lights and shadows, joys and sorrows that a full life has to offer. “I don’t know why I’m still on this earth after all that’s happened”, she offered, “but as long as I am, I may as well do the things that make me happy.”

And there it was. The gold nugget. The night’s true take-away.

Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be celebrated. She’s seen her share of losses, and her body doesn’t move the way it used to, but she still finds a way to dance, because it brings her joy.

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Who knows why any of us are still here – at any age. But as long as we are, we’d be wise to take a page out of this Auntie’s book. Paint, play, build, sing, travel, garden, photograph, ride, converse – whatever those things are that allow us to be gloriously transported to our happy places, it’s important to make the time to do them. It’s one of the ways we take care of ourselves, which in turn gives us the energy to serve those around us. Finding ways to do the things that make us happy in and around life’s bumps and hurdles is a choice that honors this gift we’ve been given.

Life’s too short to choose otherwise.

Since 1997, Lauri Gwilt has centered her career on helping people across North America to discover the connection between how they think and how their lives go. She is co-author and co-host of The Habit of Celebration, an e-course from the Celebrate What’s Right initiative developed with former National Geographic Photographer, Dewitt Jones.

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