As so many of you, I am deeply saddened by the passing of Dr. Maya Angelo on May 28, 2014. As I write this and speak her name out loud, I am filled with an unexplainable warmth and reassurance in my soul. A reassurance that everything will work out. I have always felt that way whenever I’ve read her books or poems or heard her speak. Her words have always soothed and caressed my soul and moved me to a peaceful and calm place.
As a writer, I was certainly inspired by her writings and philosophies. It was a dream of mine to meet her and simply sit in her presence and drink in her wisdom. I would have asked her questions and listened to her answers. But now that will never be and for that I am also sad. But the literary works that she left us are eternal gifts for the ages and that will have to suffice for us.
I could tell you how much she inspired me to write. But the truth is, she did not. I was a writer before I knew who Maya Angelou was. I’d written my first short story when I was only 10. I did not discover Ms. Angelou until years later. Instead, I will tell you that she lived a life that showed me what the possibilities were for me. Her work lit a fire within me that made me believe that I, too, could nurture a soul with my words or speak my truth unapologetically. She made me understand that there is power in our words especially when there is love in our hearts. For those lessons, I am eternally grateful.
I could tell you that hearing her amazing rhythmic prose exhilarated me and that would be the truth. However, I would rather share with you that her confirming words birthed courage within me. Maya said, “Stepping onto a brand new path is difficult, but not more difficult than remaining in a situation which is not nurturing to the whole woman.” Those simple words were, and continue to be, profound for me. There was a period not so long ago in my life where I had to leave a situation. I was ambiguous and indecisive, not to mention deeply disappointed. During this time of confusion for me, I came across Ms. Angelou’s quote. I read it at least a dozen times and then a dozen more. I finally understood what I needed to do and I did it. I left the situation that did not nurture this whole woman and I never looked back.
I’d rather tell you how my warrior status was affirmed after I read these words from Maya Angelou: “Surviving is important. Thriving is elegant.” It was during one of the most challenging times in my life years ago – going through a much needed divorce – that I was blessed by her words. It wasn’t that the actual divorce was difficult or regrettable. No, I was glad to be on my way to freedom and peace. The difficult and scary part for me was that after many years, I’d be on my own and I wasn’t sure what that meant. I’d always known that I was a survivor, but I never thought about doing more than just surviving until I read and understood what Ms. Angelou meant. It wasn’t enough to just maintain and wipe my brow and exhale after the divorce. My goal needed to be to become better afterwards – to bloom. And you know what? I did just that – I blossomed like a spring garden and, once again, I never looked back.
It is in one of my very favorite Maya Angelou quotes where I learned to really listen to and trust my instincts. It is where I learned to hear the voices inside of my head that warn me about people and/or situations that are not good for me. It was her words that reminded me that sometimes it really is what it appears to be and that the red flags are real. Dr. Angelou told us that “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.” She didn’t say believe them the second or third time, but the first time. These few words have opened up my eyes and awakened my senses. I not only hear my inner spirit as it protects me and warns me, I listen and obey. I don’t make excuses for people’s behavior and I don’t try to change it. Instead, I believe what my ears hear and my eyes see and always what my soul feels and believes. This has served me well.
More recently, with the death of my youngest sister, Ali, I have struggled to find answers and understanding in her death. There are no answers and there is no understanding. So what I am slowly discovering instead is acceptance and peace. I have lost two sisters in my lifetime and I am the only sibling left. In addition to my quiet conversations with God and trusting His will, I am also comforted by Ms. Angelou’s poem, A Great Tree Has Fallen. In part, Maya says, “And when great souls die, after a period peace blooms, slowly and always irregularly. Spaces fill with a kind of soothing electric vibration. Our senses, restored, never to be the same, whisper to us. They existed. They existed. We can be. Be and be better. For they existed.” My sisters, Audrey and Allison existed and I am better because they did.
I thank you, Dr. Maya Angelou. You never knew me, but you simply changed my life and, without even knowing it, you were there for me throughout some of the most painful times. You were a great tree and I will miss your presence on earth. Rest in sweet slumber – the world is a better place because you, too, existed.