Maya Angelou is an American author and poet. She has published seven autobiographies, three books of essays, and several books of poetry, and is credited with a list of plays, movies, and television shows spanning more than fifty years. Wikipedia
On matters of success, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote:
“The man is a success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much; who has gained the respect of intelligent men and the love of children; who has filled his niche and accomplished his task; who leaves the world better than he found it, whether by an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul; who never lacked appreciation of earth’s beauty or failed to express it; who looked for the best in others and gave the best he had.”
Stevenson’s vision of success was lofty and few people will achieve the level of symphonic resonance as perfectly as Maya Angelou. Words like charismatic, magnetic, indomitable-spirit, lover-of-life, and daughter-of –the-universe fail to describe the essence of her being. For her followers, I suspect that the overarching memory of her will be her smile. It was a smile born out of years of overcoming countless hardships and the challenges of being a woman of color.
In an age of fuzzy values, conspicuous consumption and self-serving narcissism, Angelou described the importance of delaying self-gratification and embracing pain and suffering as a means to achieving higher levels of being.
I used several of her poems describing the ecstasy of Nature and the utter importance of appreciating our role in it.
“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” – Maya Angelou.
Once, when I prefaced one of her poems with the line; “This poem is from a black, female poet,” a female student asked, “Why did you qualify her as such?” You did not preface Emerson’s poetry as from a white, male poet.” She asked a fair question, however, Emerson’s poetry did not emerge from a person who was white in a black-dominated society; who was a male in a female-dominated culture, and a male poet in a world of mostly female poets. All of this contributed to the extraordinary relevance of her achievements. The fact that she was sexually molested and brutally raped at eight years of age only emphasized the overwhelming odds that she had to overcome to become the great person that she became.
Angelou had every right to become a bitter, angry, aggressive, retaliatory feminist; instead she followed the model of other great spiritual leaders including Dr. Martin Luther King.
“Yes. I have always tried to find myself a church. I have studied everything. I spent some time with Zen Buddhism and Judaism and I spent some time with Islam. I am a religious person. It is my spirit, but I found that I really want to be a Christian. That is what my spirit seems to be built on.”
In a nation that is steeped in political demagoguery and wracked by ideological bitterness and disharmony, the loss of unifying voices like Maya Angelou will be sorely missed. It is hard not to believe that, sadly, she simply will never be replaced.