When I heard that Dr. Maya Angelou passed away, I realized her words have been part of the soundtrack of my life. Her voice (that voice: if God is a woman that's the sound of her voice) has guided me while making important decisions, has offered me comfort and served me like a cautionary tale. She was a mother of my heart and mind.
Oprah Winfrey introduced me to Maya Angelou through her talk show. Oprah hosted a slumber party on location at Ms. Angelou's house with some viewers who read her book Heart of a Woman. After a group discussion, Oprah and Maya sat on Maya's giant bed and talked. They were wearing pajamas and seemed so comfortable with each other. It was revelatory to see two black women who shared such love and respect for one another talk about life in a deep enriching way on national television. It's the only time in my life (outside of my children) that I experienced love at first sight. A warm glow seemed to emanate off the screen and I felt embraced.
That's when I heard Maya say, "When someone tells you who they are believe them the first time." The sentiment blew my mind. Well, of course! When someone behaves in a way that shows you their true character why wouldn't you believe them? Why would you project on them what you want them to be? Don't waste your time. Take them at their word.
I could hardly wrap my mind around this profound being. I often threw my hands up and shook my head in awe when she extolled one brilliant thing after the other. Here's another pearl, "There is nothing so pitiful as a young cynic because he has gone from knowing nothing, to believing nothing." That's So true!! "I am a woman. Phenomenally. Phenomenal woman, That's me." Self-love! Whaaaaat?!!
Her words helped shape my world view. If I saw or heard her, my heart was lifted and I'd lean in for a lesson that was certain to follow.
"I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better." Self love and forgiveness. What a concept!
She not only influenced me as a writer, she inspired me as a human being. Instead of "Love" she wrote "Joy" before her autograph. She strove to "be of use", demanded kindness and rejected cruelty. She laughed, she smiled, she celebrated life despite her tragic childhood which included a rape. She never suggested that life was easy. She simply chose to live in the light.
"Still I rise."
When I heard the news, it felt like the sun disappeared, suddenly and without warning. How I'll miss her bright light.
I was so pleased by the outpouring of love on social media. So many people expressed that she felt like an aunt, mother or sister. Dr. Angelou made me feel like she was speaking directly and only to me: like she was mine. Glad to know, she was ours.
Here is part of a poem she wrote for Michael Jackson's memorial. He was controversial, I know, but her words express how I feel in regards to her:
Beloveds, now we know that we know nothing, now that our bright and shining star can slip away from our fingertips like a puff of summer wind.
Without notice, our dear love can escape our doting embrace. Sing our songs among the stars and walk our dances across the face of the moon.
In the instant that Michael is gone, we know nothing. No clocks can tell time. No oceans can rush our tides with the abrupt absence of our treasure...
He came to us from the creator, trailing creativity in abundance.
Despite the anguish, his life was sheathed in mother love, family love, and survived and did more than that.
He thrived with passion and compassion, humor and style. We had him whether we know who he was or did not know, he was ours and we were his...
We were enchanted with his passion because he held nothing. He gave us all he had been given.
Today in Tokyo, beneath the Eiffel Tower, in Ghana's Black Star Square.
In Johannesburg and Pittsburgh, in Birmingham, Alabama, and Birmingham, England
We are missing Michael.
But we do know we had him, and we are the world.