The great Maya Angelou has passed. In reading the commentaries on her life, I’ve come to realize how little (shamefully) I really knew about her. I was aware, of course, of her talents as a writer and orator, but I was unaware of her dramatic personal metamorphosis. She was someone who seemed to have had many lives all wrapped up into her one 86 year existence.
While her gift for connecting with her audience through her writing and numerous speeches was remarkable – just look at the many editorials and tweets quoting great lines from her work – what was so striking to me about her life was the manner in which she exemplified how we as human beings are capable of major redemption and recovery. She proved that it is truly possible to transform oneself and to move beyond the bounds or limitations of human expectations or past experiences.
Based solely on her early years, many would have written off a young Ms. Angelou. She was raped at seven by her mother’s boyfriend, became a single mother shortly after high school, and would later work as a stripper and madam before becoming a mainstream singer and dancer and, eventually, the writer most of us know her as. Hers was not the trajectory that would have been expected of most black women in her situation. Anyone else might have been a lost cause.
Her life though was an embodiment of the words she put to paper. She asked her readers to soar, to rise above their defeats, to love, to hope, and believe in themselves. With Maya Angelou it wasn’t lip service. It was how she lived her life. Her passing is a reminder that it’s how I – how all of us really, should live our own lives.