After the news of Maya Angelou’s death broke this morning, I spent a solid thirty minutes googling the prolific performer. A good way to gauge how unimpressive you are is to skim her Wikipedia page where you will learn that she is not only the author of seven autobiographies and the recipient of over thirty honorary doctoral degrees (I’m still waiting for my college diploma) but she worked closely with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X in addition to her lobbying for women’s rights.
She also wrote poetry and plays and she acted. But in spite of this, it is a disservice to look exclusively to the written accolades that encompass her life span.
Her presence can only really be understood by listening to the conviction in her voice when she speaks and seeing the furrowed brow that tells of her compassion and sincerity while quotes just seemingly fall out of her mouth. (As a matter of fact, she has said, “Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.”)
While Amelia watched YouTube video after video, she asked me how Angelou got to be the way she was. It’s an interesting thought to spotlight and presents the question of how any of us get to be the way we are.
Of course, I don’t have an answer, but perhaps it’s tethered to courage — “One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.”
Here are a few more quotes worth absorbing:
“You are the sum total of everything you’ve ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot – it’s all there. Everything influences each of us, and because of that I try to make sure that my experiences are positive.”
“Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean.”
“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.”
“Nothing will work unless you do.”
“My mother said I must always be intolerant of ignorance but understanding of illiteracy. That some people, unable to go to school, were more educated and more intelligent than college professors.”
“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.”
“Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.”
“Independence is a heady draught, and if you drink it in your youth, it can have the same effect on the brain as young wine does. It does not matter that its taste is not always appealing. It is addictive and with each drink you want more.”
“My life has been one great big joke, a dance that’s walked a song that’s spoke, I laugh so hard I almost choke when I think about myself.”
“There’s a world of difference between truth and facts. Facts can obscure the truth.”
“What is a fear of living? It’s being preeminently afraid of dying. It is not doing what you came here to do, out of timidity and spinelessness. The antidote is to take full responsibility for yourself – for the time you take up and the space you occupy. If you don’t know what you’re here to do, then just do some good.”
“I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels.”
“It’s one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody.”
What do you have to say?