Maya was the first one to teach me about good energy. She believed that if you spent time lessening the worth of another by speaking ill of them then the negative energy would be part of you. When you entered her house, you were not allowed to speak of others unless it was positive, and off color jokes or political attacks were simply not permitted. On one occasion, in front of ten or so people, she walked up to someone, held out their coat, and said, “I think it’s time for you to leave now.” The person left, and the lesson was learned.
It wasn’t just that she believed in positive energy begetting positive energy that made me sit up and take notice of that experience. Perhaps more important to me was that she wasn’t afraid to speak her mind to anyone. Standing up for that in which she believed, regardless of the personal loss, was always worth it to her, and so it has become worth it to me. In the years since the incident, I have left behind more friends than I have made, and I don’t regret a one of them. I could walk up to someone and ask them to leave my house now. I hope I never will, but I think I could which is where the lesson and the growth of me as a person lives.
When she was seven she was raped. She told a group of people what happened, and they beat the man to death. She believed that it was her voice that did him in. She felt so guilty that she stopped speaking for five and a half years. Her grandmother told everyone she would speak when she was ready. And, she did. I am in awe. Five and a half years. You learn a lot in that much silence. Perhaps that is why words went from being a weapon inside her to her gift to the ages.
And, what a way she has with words. I’m not going to list all the Maya words that I have held dear over the years, but the quote I hear inside me the most, the one that has lifted guilt from me at my darkest times is “when you know better, you do better.” When you know better, you do better. I say it out loud and hope that I do offer my best, which is sometimes lacking in the brilliant potential that is mine. And, when I realize I haven’t, I regroup, and I do better. Try it, it’s better than confession.
Then there was the time she said, “When people tell you who they are, believe them.” It made me realize that I wanted to start acting the way I want to be remembered. Oh what a gift my friend and mentor Maya has left behind for us all.
I have to add her poetry. She is the first poet in whose work I saw my own reflection. And, she is the first poet that woke up the cobwebbed inner shelves of my mind to the wonders of what I might become and what I have done. Take a moment to list to her Woman Phenomenally. Do yourself a favor.
And, her books. Have you read, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings? I hope so, or maybe I hope not so you can read it for the first time now. The first time for something that amazing is always the best.
Maya is the first of my mentors to die because she was old and her life was lived to its natural conclusion. I think that makes it worse. That her time has come, rather than being snatched before she gave me all she had to give, means that she gave me all she had to give. I’m a greedy girl to want more when she gave so much. Shame on me. And, how to hold her close? To squeeze everything she had to offer – to respect her by listening to lessons over and over again? I will try to continue to go back to her lessons and the memories she left behind. Often.
I guess I should mention I didn’t personally know Maya Angelou. I know I write about her here as if I did, and that is a credit to her, not to me. She was a close friend to all that wanted to listen and to learn from her. So, I’m allowed to say she was my mentor, my teacher, and my friend. She would smile at that.