“I’ve learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow. I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. I’ve learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you’ll miss them when they’re gone from your life. I’ve learned that making a “living” is not the same thing as making a “life.” I’ve learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance. I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back. I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart, I usually make the right decision. I’ve learned that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be one. I’ve learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back. I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn. 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.” – Maya Angelou.
No one is discovered. No things are ever discovered. They exist and we find them and they become real things in our consciousness. They aren’t discovered first by us, but they are discovered for ourselves when we meet them for the first time.
I don’t remember when I first “met” Maya Angelou.
I don’t remember which came first. Did I first hear or read one of her poems? Did I hear her voice or did I see her on television? It may have been all of the above. It may have been that I met her in her poems without knowing what she looked like. It may have been that I met her by hearing her voice without knowing or remembering that I had her read her poems. I don’t know for sure, but I do know that it wasn’t until I was a young woman, maybe 18 or 19, that I put all of the pieces together and decided at once that “I know Maya Angelou.”
The Maya Angelou that I met in that moment of knowing was many things– a poet, a novelist, a playwright, a dancer, a mother, a civil rights activist, a sexual abuse survivor, an actor. She was all these things and more, but today, in looking back on my time “knowing” Maya” I have to say that I remember her most by how she made me feel.
She made me feel:
One of my favorite quotes by Maya Angelou comes at the end of that wonderful and very full quote included above. It’s “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.”
Maya Angelou did this best. She made me feel like a person. So even though I never “met” her until I was old enough to know her. Even though I can’t remember my favorite quotes from all of the pieces she’s written that I’ve read, I remember that feeling whenever in the presence of some part of her. I remember how she made me feel.
I don’t know why but for every season of my life as a woman, there’s been something Maya Angelou has said, written, talked about that spoke to that moment, that breathed into that moment and made me feel like she understood…me.
She understood about being a woman phenomenally, a mother, a writer, a human being with a soul. She understood what love is and what it isn’t and how to know the difference between the two. She understood what it means to have brown skin, what it means to be hurt. She understood true beauty and pain. She understood what it means to be woman and writer and mother and why telling our stories matters to our souls and why the caged bird must sing. She understood herself well, and I think and that’s why she understood so much else about others, about the world, about…me and millions of other voices of “me” around the world who hear themselves in her words, who feel her lived existence in that experience of commiseration.
When I heard of her death, I felt like I did when I heard that my dad had died, kind of. I felt familial grief though it was grief without that intimate sense of guilt and what-ifs. I felt full of emotions. On the verge. There was something tight in my throat as I looked at pictures of her and thought of her. “Mommy, who’s that lady?” my four-year old asked in seeing her on my computer screen. “That’s Maya Angelou.”
She was not family. I never met Maya Angelou in the flesh, though, I did meet her in her time on earth and for that I am grateful. She felt close to me, comfortable to me, familiar to me. And so that’s why I felt compelled to write these small words to honor a legend, a good soul who lived and made a difference in my life and the lives of others with her words and good deeds.
Rest in peace, Maya Angelou. May peace be upon you.