Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Loss of A Giant - Dr. Maya Angelou

Today, when I was at work, I was presented with the saddest news I have heard in a few weeks. Dr. Maya Angelou passed away this morning. I am not very emotional and while I am sad that people pass away, I don't usually show that sadness with tears. Today was no exception, but I did take some time to examine why the passing of a woman I had never met would affect me so deeply.

The answer I came up with was this: I did know her. Not in the conventional way, I guess, but I did know her. She examined her life and allowed all of us to read her deepest pains, sufferings and joys. I, like almost everyone else, read I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings and cheered for a girl that did not yet know she was hero. It was easy to gobble up the words on her pages-- they seemed to leap off the page at certain points. You could read her words, close your eyes and smell the apple blossoms and dirt roads of backwoods Arkansas. She made you question traditional thoughts of beauty, made you see the dark side of "family," made you hate, love and empathize... all in one book.

I remember the first time I read that book-- I remember the last. I was going through a rough time. There is nothing like reading about someone else's nightmare... it makes yours seem so small. I remember standing up in front of peers at a church youth conference, reciting Phenomenal Woman and thinking to myself that the MOST self assured woman had to be responsible for this magical poetry. And she was magical. She led us through her life, like dogs on leashes on a long walk, pausing at every change in scenery. And we were eager to be led. We ate it up; we consumed HER. And it was life giving.

It is so odd that her passing happened during my month of the 1950s experiment. During the 1950s Dr. Angelou was hard at work, outside of the home, doing what she could to make ends meet. Hanging out with influential thinkers, participating in a movement that she would champion for the rest of her life-- the Civil Rights Movement.  She spent the 50s begin the antithesis of what we think (or have been told) the 1950s woman was. A great example of what I would like to be-- then AND now. Rest In Peace, you phenomenal woman. You have fought the good fight. May we all have the courage to pick up the torch and carry on.


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