Friday, May 30, 2014

Remembering Maya Angelou

There's been so much already written about Maya Angelou; I particularly like this piece in The Washington Post by Natasha Trethewey.  The world likely doesn't need me to add my piece.

That's good, because I'm not sure I have much to say.  I'll admit that I haven't read much of her work, a stray poem here and there, an essay now and again.  My generation didn't read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings as a class assignment, the way that later generations have.  Like many Americans, I feel I know Angelou more because of her frequent Oprah appearances than from reading her work.

Still, I felt sad at the news of her death Wednesday.  I wondered why I felt so strange:  after all, there are writers who have written works which have been a true touchstone for me.  And she had lived a full life, dying what seems to be a good death at a late age.

I feel a loss in some of the same ways I felt when my grandmother died.  What changes to society these older women had seen!  And Angelou helped usher in some of those changes.

Plus it was shocking in that she always seemed so healthy--as Di McCullough posted on Facebook, "I didn't realize I believed Maya Angelou was immortal until today."

I treasure her more for her trailblazing than for her actual writing.  She opened doors for so many of us:  women, minorities, the abused.  And I also treasure her for her fierce belief in the value of goodness.  Here's one of my favorite quotes:  "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

She showed that our creative work can be a way to show kindness.  I've been struck by the testimony of so many people who were abused as children who discovered that they were not alone.  Some of us might not realize that there was a time when people just didn't talk about this ugliness, and even if they did, there weren't many resources.  Angelou was an important resource.

So, in a way, Angelou has been a touchstone for me, just a different kind.  I want my work to be a blessing, like hers has been.  I want to be the kind of light that she was.

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