Every once in a while, you come across someone in life who gives off the air of eternity. This could be a person who has preceded and has outlasted many others. It might be a person who may not be present on a daily basis, but consistently pops up in the important nooks and crannies of your life. It may be a person who persevered when life tried and tried to knock them down and drag them out. It may be a person whose wisdom flows like a never-ceasing fountain, always, always providing you with something cool and refreshing when you need it most.
Every once in a while, you may find some such person. Rarely do you find all of these everlasting attributes in one being, but for me, Dr. Maya Angelou possessed them entirely.
The news of her passing stung. Though my common sense knew better, she was always one of the immortals to me – a being who just was and would continue to be until the end of time. It’s a selfish thought, I know – but it’s a testament to the way Ms. Maya gave onto us, both purposefully and unknowingly, for 86 years.
I wasn’t even a teen when I found Ms. Maya. I’m not sure how she came to me, but I remember the day I went to the library, pulled out a crumpled paper scribbled with notes, and asked the librarian for a book called “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.” I cracked open that book, drank in her words, and realized that I had been thirsty all that time. Maya satisfied my personal remix of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and filled me with the desire for more. I got my hands on anything Angelou that I could find, and the transformation began. She wasn’t my only guide in life, but Ms. Maya helped me to discover myself while discovering her.
We came from different times and places, different trials and traumas, but Maya Angelou’s works and life story exposed me to an expression of Black womanhood that was new to me. I was at an age where my limbs stretched and extended towards a 6′ frame like hers, and when I didn’t know what to do with all this length and brown skin and a body that demanded a confidence I didn’t yet possess, I had Maya. When I wondered what it meant to own one’s sensuality, I had Maya. When I wasn’t sure if it was OK to be more than one thing in life, I had Maya. Her very existence was a symbol of possibility, and I carried that with me as I grew from a girl to a woman.
Those possibilities were numerous. Because of Maya Angelou, I saw the worth of telling my own stories from my own experiences. My love of writing and literacy grew tenfold thanks in part to her; she made me want to read more and write better, and when I lacked motivation to do the latter, one quick read of her work was like a gentle smack upside the head to pull it together and be as great as I could be. She exhibited vibrance and trained me up in the ways of being unapologetic in my femininity, my Blackness, and the intersections therein. She knew that life was no crystal stair for us, but taught me how to stand in defiance, dare someone to negate my flyness, and say “I’m here anyways.” She showed me how to be better than I was yesterday, and the discovery of new quotes and anecdotes of hers were gifts. She helped me to be phenomenal, to recognize the authenticity in others, and to not be satisfied with surviving – we were meant to thrive. I agreed with her often, but even in disagreement she pushed me to investigate my convictions and stand firm. Her words saved me from heartbreak, and when I was too stubborn to heed her wisdom her words were a salve for my wounds. Through Ms. Maya, I bloomed and was healed – and though the cycles of life found me hurt and closed in a tight bud time and time again, she reminded me that I could always be open, whole, and full.
Seeing Maya Angelou in Toronto a couple of years ago with the invisible cloak of age across her shoulders, I just figured she’d find a way to accommodate. She’d find a new way to write, to speak, to teach, and to inspire when current methods became too taxing, but that would be it. I regarded her as an eternal fixture but never took her for granted as such, because I figured she had forever to grant us new lessons and to uncover new truths about herself and her life. Alas, reality hit me on May 28, 2014 when I learned that she had stepped behind the veil of this existence, and had moved on to the next.
The more I think about it, I realize she didn’t let me down with her position in my mind as an eternal being. She has found a new method of communication. She did find a way to accommodate. She was able to uphold immortal status. She just showed me that she didn’t have to be here in the physical to do it – her work and her life story will do it for her.
Rest well, Ms. Maya.