I am sure you have already heard about the passing of literary great, Maya Angelou. My heart is heavy, and as I stated on Twitter and Facebook, I feel like I have lost an aunt. Today’s post is not directly musically related, but there is a certain rhythmic ebb and flow with how Maya Angelou affected my life. The joys of having a blog is that sometimes you get to hijack your own pages and express your thoughts on a topic close to your heart. Well, today is one of those days for me.
Let me share my Maya Angelou story with you.
Maya Angelou came to my attention back in grade school. Do you know the stories about teachers who changed your life? Well, my English teacher Mr. Jeremiah Stack was the one who made the difference. If it wasn’t for my teacher and Maya Angelou, I would not be the writer that I am today. Excerpts of I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings was a part of our English exam at the end of the year and we had to write an essay on the pieces provided. Through that single excerpt, I was immersed into a world of pain, racism, and self-discovery. I knew I had to learn more about this woman. We shared a middle name, we had a thirst for learning, and we were both logophiles. It was inevitable. After the exam, my teacher gave me 2 of Dr. Angelou’s books as a graduation present – Caged Bird and Gather Together In My Name. That summer, I immersed myself and read right through the books. I was eager to know more, as I learned more. We loved Shakespeare, we loved literature, we were continually growing and learning. To think about everything that Dr. Angelou has lived through, I was in awe of the woman that she was becoming. Even under the imprisonment of racism, being sexually assaulted. and being an introvert and mute, Maya Angelou drove forward along her path and let absolutely nothing stop her.
A few books and years later, I was in university. My major? English Literature, with a minor in Journalism. Why? Because English became my forte, my go-to, my best friend. The sharp and linguistic pen of Shakespeare, the words of wisdom and empowerment of James Baldwin, life and Caribbean tales told through the eyes of Jamaica Kincaid, Jean Rhys and Derek Walcott – that was my world. One year, my parents bestowed upon me the best birthday gift ever. Knowing full well how much Maya Angelou meant to me, they purchased a coveted ticket for me to see her at a speaking engagement in Montreal. Never mind my fear that it was only one ticket and I would be going by myself. I got over that very quickly. Not only that, but it also included the chance to meet this icon who I have grown to know as Aunty My in my head. I nearly lost my mind. What do I wear? How do I prepare? It all came down to that one night.
Hearing Dr. Angelou speak was intoxicating. The many languages that she is well versed in, the knowledge she imparted, the jokester that she was – I was again, in awe. And then came the moment of truth – meeting Dr. Maya Angelou. She was such a presence. Ever so elegant and eloquent. I was honoured to meet my literary icon. The awe-inspiring woman who took me through civil rights marches and through her life journey with carefully manicured paragraphs and phrases. Even though it was a brief moment, not more than 5 minutes because she was a bit under the weather that night, it was my moment and it was magical. One that I shall never ever forget. To this day, I still have my ticket from that event in a photo album filled with memories of yesteryear.
This is simply a brief synopsis of the influence that the great Dr. Maya Angelou had on me. I know there will be many more stories, thoughts and memoriams to come. We have seen her go on to receive countless accolades, write many more books and impart immeasurable antidotes of wisdom upon us. I know she is not only my Aunty My, and these sentiments are shared with legions of followers all over the world. That was the kind of woman that she was – a phenomenal one indeed. With that being said, let me leave you with one of my favourite Maya Angelou quotes that I am sure you have seen me quote an umpteen amount of times. I certainly try my best to live by this one:
”So you watch yourself about complaining. What you’re supposed to do when you don’t like a thing is change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.”
As a woman who lived by her word, she did as she said above and more. For her teachings, spirit, grace, wisdom and perseverance, I am forever grateful.
Rest in peace Maya Angelou.
See y’all soon…