I just heard that Dr. Maya Angelou has died at age 86. I am often saddened by the death of celebrities but for this one, I cried. Her light, her grace, her courage, her brilliance, the way she carried herself through the world, all made her such a force and now this world is absent all that. It seems a sadder, lonelier place for a bit.
The only spoken word CD I ever bought was her poem, On the Pulse of Morning, from Bill Clinton’s inauguration. I listened to it countless times. I read so many of her poems, as well but, as powerful as her words are upon the page, there is nothing like hearing her read them. Her voice matched the words so well and she made them come alive. She made them rise up from the page, like she rose up. It’s hard to pick a favourite poem of hers. I think I love them all. Of course, And Still I Rise is a favourite, Phenomenal Woman is up there and On the Pulse of Morning (Courtesy; William J. Clinton Presidential Library), the one that introduced me to her work must be there. But I’ve been listening to her words again today and found a brief clip, not of a poem but of her telling us about being human. And it shows how even when she is just speaking, her way with words makes poetry happen. She says brilliant things like “I am aware that I’m child of God. It’s such an amazing understanding. To think that the IT which made fleas and mountains, rivers and stars, made me.” Or “I have to know that the brute, the bigot and the batterer are all children of God, whether they know it or not. And I’m supposed to treat them accordingly. It’s hard and I blow it all the time.”
People like Maya Angelou make me believe there is something after this life. Surely, a presence so powerful cannot be stopped by the cessation of a beating heart. All that force, all that light must go somewhere and cannot be contained in a coffin. I don’t know where it goes, but I cannot believe it disappears with the dying of a breath. So, to her body, I say rest in peace and to her soul, I say rise, rise up to the highest heights.