As I sat at my computer today, making final editing changes on my upcoming book, I flipped over to Facebook for a few minutes and immediately saw the news about the passing of legendary poet Maya Angelou. It would be easy for me to say, as a writer, that she has been a role model for me or that I have been greatly influenced by her immense works, but the truth is that she has affected me on a much deeper level by her sentiment, words and wisdom.
I was only a few months sober, at 22, when a friend gave me Maya Angelou’s book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. For me, the book served as a road map for overcoming obstacles in my life and looking to stories as a way of inspiration. I had dreamed of being a writer since I was a child, but reading her book made me realize the purpose of, as Oprah’s states, “turning your wounds into wisdom“.
Since that time, although I haven’t been a consistent writer, I have tried to use my wounds to help other people by telling them my story. I may not always be a writer, but I am definitely always a storyteller. There is a difference.
Through the years, I read all of her books and watched any interview I could catch of Maya, who from a distance, had become my sage and my role model for living. Many times throughout my life, while having hard times, I’ve pulled up one of her interviews on Oprah and listened to her life lessons. She has taught me to find something you are passionate about and to put your all into that passion. She has taught me that the quality of people, not the quantity of people, in my life, is what matters most. She has, most of all, made me realize that a life lived on the fringes between humor and intellectual depth, eating great food with endearing companions and passing on what helped you, is truly a life lived.
These are my fifteen favorite quotes of Maya Angelou:
“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”
“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.”
“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”
“My great hope is to laugh as much as I cry; to get my work done and try to love somebody and have the courage to accept the love in return.”
“The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them.”
“I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way (s)he handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.”
“Have enough courage to trust love one more time and always one more time.”
“I’ve learned that making a ‘living’ is not the same thing as ‘making a life’.”
“I am convinced that most people do not grow up…We marry and dare to have children and call that growing up. I think what we do is mostly grow old. We carry accumulation of years in our bodies, and on our faces, but generally our real selves, the children inside, are innocent and shy as magnolias.”
“You may shoot me with your words, you may cut me with your eyes, you may kill me with your hatefulness, but still, like air, I’ll rise!”
“Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet.”
“If you have only one smile in you, give it to the people you love. Don’t be surly at home, then go out in the street and start grinning ‘Good morning’ at total strangers.”
“Love life. Engage in it. Give it all you’ve got. Love it with a passion because life truly does give back, many times over, what you put into it.”
“Instead, pursue the things you love doing, and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off you.”
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
The last one will forever be my favorite. It has gotten me through so many times, when I have blamed myself for acting a certain way, but remembering through her words, that life is a learning experience, not a ritual act. I learned this from Maya.
Several years ago, when my mother passed away, I started using the word “passing” instead of died. For me, the words death, died, R.I.P., etc are so impersonal and don’t show respect for the life of the person who has left us or the impact they had on our lives. At my mother’s funeral, I looked up into the standing room only balcony of the church as I gave her eulogy. It was packed. For the funeral of a woman who didn’t think she had many friends or that she mattered to that many people, it was overwhelming. Through tears, I muttered, “This would have made my mom so happy.”
That balcony reminded me of one of my mom’s favorite books and films, To Kill a Mockingbird. In both, there is a great scene where Atticus Finch leaves the courtroom after the trial of Tom Robinson. Scout, Atticus’ daughter is instructed by the Reverend, ““Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passin’.” It is out of utter respect and admiration for who Atticus is as a person, that the balcony stands as he passes.
For you Maya, we stand in your honor.
And stay tuned for the release of my book The Before Now and After Then July 29th 2014! Add my book to your Goodreads to-read shelf and go there to find out more and visit my author page! Thanks!