I woke up this morning, excited, ready to buckle down on the serious work that is sitting on my desk. I poured my first cup of coffee, looked at the stream in one of my timelines and by chance caught sight of the breaking news that Maya Angelou had died. That singular bit of news cast a cloud over the rest of my day.
I tried to shake it. I did get some important calls and emails sent. I ran a couple of errands which needed to be done, hoping being in the sunshine would brighten my mood. The cloud was not bothered by warm summer air but hung over my head all day like a sorrow-filled mantle someone had placed on my shoulders. I didn’t want to say hello or goodbye, I just pondered on the meaning of the cloud.
Before lunch, I sat outside, as I often do, and wrote a poem about Maya Angelou. It’s a pretty good one if I say so myself and I will find a place for it in my upcoming book. But even putting my gratitude onto paper didn’t send the cloud away for I have all day kept harkening back to the moments when Maya Angelou made a difference in my life. I kept thinking of the silent influence she had on me as she did millions of other people and like so many others, there were crossroads when her words rang true with the motherly wisdom only someone who “had been there” could’ve shared.
If you have never read one of her books or listened to her poetry then you have missed out on a gem in life. Buy a copy of one of her half-dozen memoirs or look up a poem on youtube and let it soak in. What makes her even more remarkable is that her words are borne out of life experience.
She was raped at the age of 7 by her mother’s boyfriend. When she told what happened, a crowd beat the man to death and she blamed herself for his death, thinking her “voice” was to blame so she didn’t speak a word for the next 6 years. She worked as a stripper, ran a brothel, sang in clubs, had a child at 17, never went to school yet was worthy enough to earn over 30 honorary doctorate degrees and read her poem at a Presidential Inauguration. There are few memoirs – if any – that rank with the literary respect and pubic reception of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. She won three Grammy Awards, was nominated for an acting Tony award, ran a newspaper in Ghana, and worked for Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. Those are just the highlights of her life.
Her largest legacy though is what I have expressed here, and what I have noticed people saying all day in posts and comments online, that at key moments in people’s lives, she somehow through her words provided comforting guidance that made a difference. Writers strive for this but only a handful achieve the goal. I can’t think of a greater honor or tribute than the public acknowledging she is one of the few.
I know my cloud will float toward the horizon by tomorrow and I’ll refocus on the work in front of me, maybe even more inspired to perform at my best. Still, for one day, the cloud dimmed the light of sun, and for good reason. R.I.P. Dr. Angelou and thank you – from all of us.