Need a laugh? Go out to lunch. Take your best friend. Meet at one of your favorite hangouts where there the specialty—homemade ice cream—comes in generous portions. Realize how awesome it is that your friend is mature enough to determine that, today, ice cream is lunch. Because it is! (Banana splits have fruit and even protein if one of your toppings is the establishment’s homemade peanut butter sauce.) 

Giggle over the antics of the family and their pets as you regale stories, while delicious ice cream and carmel sauce drip all over your plate and make your hands delightfully sticky. (And express gratitude that napkins, when necessary, are happily plentiful.)

Update each other on various goings-on as you exchange Happy January Winter/Late Christmas presents which make the cold, grey day feel like bright spring. 

Try to remember to breathe as tears—icy in the winter air—stream down your face in laughter after your friend relates an awkward work experience in which a co-worker tells a client that she can qualify for more money once she has some dependents, to which the client responds, “How do I get those?” (Laugh more when you think of the people driving by in the parking lot wondering what is making the two of you laugh so hard, and how they can get in on it.) 

Marvel at your friend’s professionalism as she explains how she holds her breath on the other side of the cubicle to keep from laughing as she hears her co-worker’s awkward silence, and her maturity to resist the urge to go over and ask her co-worker, “Yes, how does one get dependents, dear?” while mentally hearing the opening line, “When a mommy and daddy love each other very much . . .” Cheer for the co-worker who, in her slightly stunned state, is able to form the very professional response that once one gets married and has children, then one has dependents in the form of spouse and said children.

Laugh with good nature when you realize that the dear client was simply asking what a dependent was, but the question implied something else that you would hope a nineteen year-old would know by now, and laugh even harder when you realize you understood your best friend perfectly without her having to explain all of this. Because after so long, friends come to share mental links.

So now upon hearing the word “dependents,” I may smile. And then giggle as I imagine my friend’s infectious giggle. And that may escalate until my sides hurt, my smile is stretched to the limits of my face, and I am once again reminded how gloriously good life is and why it is said that laughter is the best medicine.

Thanks for the dose of the best, Leaf Child!

When your professor walks into your English class with his Austen novel bulging with post-it notes marking his favorite passages, you know this professor loves his literature. And as this professor starts speaking about his favorite pieces, you realize how fortunate you are to be a student of this professor who has the desire to share his love of literature with you. 

Professor Hopkins was this professor. He loved Austen, Scott, and other Romantics, and he let you know why they deserved such praise. He had the courage to begin a semester with William Blake (disregarding his wife’s insistence that to do so would be cruel and insane) and managed to keep all of us enrolled in his class until the end—because he made you realize it was worth it. He recognized when a student’s comment was simply an excuse to bring up their favorite theorist, and would brush their comment aside with a simple and inoffensive, “Uh-huh,” before bringing the discussion back to his actual point. You knew to come to his class prepared because he wouldn’t wait for you. (“I hope you’ve all read the ending.”) And he admitted that his one-page summaries were simply a way to ensure we read the assignment for the day (and that the number of check marks he gave our papers represented his enthusiasm as he read, not necessarily our grade). 

Prof. Hopkins introduced me to Ms. Jane Austen, and his love and genuine joy for her novels made me interested in discovering her other works for myself. George Eliot and Sir Walter Scott were among other authors that took part in the curriculum, and Prof. Hopkins’s enthusiasm for their works was catching. Intelligent lectures, insightful discussions, and the overall feeling of excitement for classic literature made up Prof. Hopkins’s courses. By the end of class, his wild hair would be standing on end from him pulling at it with both hands in excitement in a ferocious attempt to explain his ideas and help us understand the great works he was introducing to us. His boards were covered in unidentifiable symbols and doodles during his lectures—with the occasional word, rare phrase, but never full sentence—which left some of us to wonder what the incoming class might think we were studying. (“I don’t know. This looks like a whirlpool. Then there’s this swiggly line here. Does that say ‘Waverly’? And is this some sort of sun ray blazing down on top of it all?”) In his class, you knew you had found someone who loved literature as much as you did, someone who knew—and reminded you—why stories were amazing, who often shared his joy in the writing and imagery of a story, and reminded you that sometimes that joy is reason enough to love a book.

Thankfully, the university also recognized the treasure they had in the English department and rewarded Prof. Hopkins accordingly before he passed on. Sadly, the university will have a hard time finding one who can fill his place and give future students the amazing and exciting education they deserve as lovers of literature. How fortunate I am to have had such a professor.

I knew the concert was going to be good. The tall, light-haired man sat at the piano and laid his fingers on the keys, and the first chords of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 filled the hall. Sparky sat up and nudged me. “It’s that song!” he whispered excitedly. Imagine his ecstatic amazement as world-famous pianist Van Cliburn sat before us and brought Sparky’s favorite piece to life.

Some time later, I came across the Van Cliburn competition being broadcast on a public television station, and was amazed and inspired by the wonderful musicians sharing their talents and Cliburn’s love of classical music. The winner of this competition came to the same concert hall Master Cliburn did years earlier, and I was thrilled to be part of the audience. In supporting her musicianship, I felt I was both supporting Master Cliburn in his desire to introduce the public to some amazing musicians, and sharing his love of classical music.

I was then fortunate enough to hear Master Cliburn play in person once again. After treating us to a fine concerto and some beautifully crafted encore pieces, this fine man solidified my belief that he was a fine person as well as a great performer. As he was leaving the stage, he stopped at the chair of the last violinist and shook the musician’s hand. He said something to her, and she nodded and smiled. He continued to the stage door, and the grin remained on the woman’s face. The great virtuoso had taken time to recognize her—genuinely, because that’s how he felt about the performers and the music—and had made her day.

Performance Today devoted an entire edition to Van Cliburn on the day he passed, and they played a part of the speech he delivered as he returned to America after winning the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. After being honored with the first ticker-tape parade ever given for a classical musician, Cliburn expressed his joy at his fellow countrymen for honoring not only him, but classical music. So, to honor Master Cliburn, here are some lovely piano pieces for your enjoyment showing why Master Cliburn was great.

Van Cliburn plays the first and second movements of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 during the competition in Moscow (during which then Premier Nikita Khrushchev apparently said, “Is Cliburn the best? Then give him first prize,” putting to rest any reservations the judges had about awarding a foreigner with first place). Watch Cliburn’s lovely hands play on the keys.

In 2009, Hoachen Zhang was the first place winner of the Van Cliburn competition. At 17 years old, I believe he was the youngest winner. During the broadcast of the competition, the judges commented on how amazing it was to see such a love and understanding of classical music in a young person. Like Cliburn, Zhang has long pianist fingers that are perfect for the keyboard.

And here’s something that shows that Cliburn can have fun (and adopt a foreign accent): his appearance on the old game show “What’s My Line?”

Play and listen to some beautiful music and thank the amazing artists who share their talents. And smile at the joy good music brings to your life.