Here I am, on a quest for self-betterment for about 16 years. Wow, that’s a long time and it seems like yesterday rather than over a decade. But, I then think about where I started versus where I am now; it feels like many lives ago. Who I once was, is a stranger to me and yet, there’s a nagging familiarity.
I remember the first moments when I began to see where I was emotionally versus where I wished to be. Already a big fan of Maya Angelou, I was ecstatic to see Lauren Hutton interview her. Appalled by Florida’s burning of her novel, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, I wanted to hear her thoughts on such an archaic display of judgment. I couldn’t believe such a back woods mentality still existed. Having just re-discovered my scholastic aptitude after a three year hiatus, I was fluffed up by my accomplishments; the pride in my intelligence bordered on arrogance. I detested ignorance; it felt like nails on a chalkboard.
I raced home from my study group to catch the interview. Maya’s voice and laughter was deep and hearty, like a song resting on the tip of her vocal cords. Each word reverberated. Her voice was just like her prose, it rolled off the tongue like honey in tea.
Watching her, I was even more enraged at the yokels banning her book from college prep reading lists. Who deemed them to be judge and jury? I began to yell at the television, how dare these racists! I could see why foreigners thought Americans were such A-holes when this is the media coverage of our country.
Lauren Hutton tactfully asked Maya her thoughts on this crazed banning. I moved to the edge of the couch, bent towards the t.v., holding my breath in anticipation. I thought, “I’m with you, Maya! Give it to them.” There was a pause, a moment of silence before Maya Angelou’s voice rumbled to life. This was the moment when I realized how emotionally immature and dysfunctional I was.
Mrs. Angelou had no negative words, no reproaches. In a melodic hum, her concern had nothing to do with herself or her feelings. She only worried for those students punished for reading her novel. She didn’t want to steer children away from reading. It was her only regret. What? I wasn’t expecting that!
Maya put me in my place, once again. She has always had a nasty habit of doing this. As I stared at the screen, I realized exactly how classy she was. This was what my Mother meant when she used the word gracious. I never completely understood what she meant until now.
Like her books, she was authentic and self-possessed. I realized that as great as my intentions were, I was too insecure to demonstrate such grace. When my feelings were hurt, I’d lash out with my forked tongue. It was always brutal and inevitably, I’d regret it. I didn’t want to be this way anymore. Justified or not, I wanted to be like Maya and rise above my ego.
I had no idea how long it would take and I most certainly had no idea how much personal work it would entail. I only knew what kind of person that I wished to be. Maya wasn’t the only catalyst, my mother and my father played huge roles in this as well. But, like a ship navigating into uncharted waters, she became my figure head. And, with Maya’s resonating voice, my journey to a more honest self, a kinder self began…
I wrote this piece more than two months ago, but no time seems more appropriate than now to release it like a prayer into cyberspace. I never knew her, a stranger for all purposes. I miss her all the same. She has always been a twinkling light in this world for me. And, I thank her because unknowingly, she has made me a better person. It seems a little darker, down here, Maya…just a little darker without you.