This period has been one filled with grief and joy over the passing of Maya Angelou, the world’s beloved poet. That’s what she was to me, a woman who spoke in tongues – in tongues filled with reason, passion, love and rhyming thoughtful turns of phrase. She sang. She danced.
She sashayed across the stages of life with a uniqueness beyond the adequacy of mere words.
I admired how she handled her long life. She was always so present. Her bearing was regal; she stood tall on her feet and held all forms of life in the highest position of honor. She may be sorely missed but her words have been immortalized in books, on screen and in the hearts and minds of legions.
I have a photo of Maya and me (and a few other friends) from one of her frequent visits to Miami. It was taken almost 15 years ago and I remember the occasion like it was yesterday. I talked with her for a bit while she was at the bar having a cocktail. She was like that, a regular woman taking a small pleasure. I liked her for being so real.
She reminded me that we all have a story in us, our own story. That conversation propelled me on my journey to complete my memoir. I’m still writing. It may never be finished but neither will I be finished until my life is over and done. I liked that about Maya. She encouraged me, and all of us, to keep living out loud, with purpose, and to never stop singing.
I completed another reading of On the Pulse of Morning, her tribute to diversity that was read at the inauguration of William Jefferson Clinton as President of the United States of America.
I can still see her that morning. It was very cold in Washington, D.C., and smoke came from her mouth as she stood reciting. I was in Florida at the time but I got a chill from hearing one line in particular: “Each of you, descendant of some passed on traveler, has been paid for.”
This line struck me as being just right about so many things; i.e., we are free to be. Maya’s poem goes on to suggest that, with our freedom, we have the responsibility to recognize our ancestors, wherever they came from, whatever their tribe, and she listed several. She also tells us that we must face – with courage – the future and that we should continue to dream of the possible.
Many people, this past week, especially school children, have recited lines from two of Maya’s poems that she wrote in celebration of her black “womaninity” – Still I Rise and Phenomenal Woman.
Yes, she was phenomenal. But she also told us we are all phenomenal. And we continue to rise above all forms of adversity. I like how those poems remind us that we are fully ourselves already, that we are enough, and that we are made in the image of God.
But I am more enthralled by the more mature Maya who became greater than phenomenal. She, to me, became a woman who understood that, once risen, there is so much more. Maya became a fully participating member of the universe.
She moved beyond restrictive limiting labels and geopolitical boundaries. She became a force for good, seeing no race, gender, religious or sexual distinctions.
That Maya said words that moved rocks, rivers and trees to bend to embrace mankind when she stated: “The horizons lean forward, offering you space to place new step of change.”
She was a true humanitarian who saw that we are all brothers and sisters who need to – no, must – bond together for the greater good of all.
I can only wish to have a small measure of her talent and gift. But she told me to get my own and that is the legacy Maya Angelou left to me.
So, I’m going to keep writing.
Antonia Williams-Gary may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org