Since Saturday, a thought has been milling in my mind. Just before the tragic events unfolded in Boston today, I had shared my musings with my mom. The word that sparked everything was “authentic.” It set my mind churning with contemplation.
Let me provide some context. Last week, my 9-year-old daughter informed her class that Maya Angelou would be at Barnes and Noble in Winston-Salem. Her teacher called Maya Angelou a legend, which heightened Miss M’s excitement for the upcoming book reading.
Arriving twenty minutes early, we found the venue already packed. Despite the standing room only situation, my children and I took our place in the first row of “standing.” From there, we observed the crowd, which was buzzing with excitement. The woman next to me shared how meeting Dr. Angelou had been on her bucket list since she was fourteen, and others around us expressed similar sentiments. My daughter absorbed all these stories that reaffirmed her teacher’s description of the woman who was about to grace the stage as a true legend.
Before the book signing commenced, we were given clear instructions on how to prepare our book for Dr. Angelou’s signature. She would only sign her most recent book, “Mom & Me & Mom,” and personalize each copy. A sticky note with the recipient’s name was to be placed on the left side of the title page, and absolutely no photographs were allowed at Dr. Angelou’s request. Everyone complied with the guidelines.
When Dr. Angelou appeared, she delivered a fantastic speech that touched upon the theme of “being authentic.” She read from her new book, answered questions, and then the signing session began with attendees going row by row to meet her.
Amidst the excitement, a boy slightly older than my daughter was caught trying to take pictures of Dr. Angelou with his iPhone. The police promptly intervened, sternly reminding him of the no-photo policy. At that moment, my daughter looked up at me and inquired, “Mom, why can’t we take pictures? Why doesn’t she want pictures?”
I recalled Dr. Angelou’s earlier discussion about “being authentic.” I explained to my daughter that perhaps Dr. Angelou didn’t feel as beautiful as she did a few days ago. She had just celebrated her 85th birthday, but she was now dealing with health issues like a partially collapsed lung and required oxygen support. Therefore, she might not want pictures taken, especially with the oxygen tubes visible.
The woman beside me, whose bucket list was about to be fulfilled, revealed that she was a child psychiatrist, having completed medical school.
Let me pause here and tell you what happened as the event progressed and half the rows had met with Dr. Angelou.
Dr. Angelou was tired but determined to meet each one of us. The Barnes and Noble staff gracefully communicated that we would proceed row by row to avoid chaos. When it was time for the last seated row to go forward, the child psychiatrist, who had been standing to my left, made her way into the row and sat at the end, claiming that she knew her place in line but needed to rest for a moment. When the row was called, she pulled me with them, despite my insistence that we hadn’t been seated and should wait for our turn. An older man with his wife accused us of cutting the line, but I explained that we hadn’t entered the filling row and were fully aware of our place in line. The educated woman who had been behind us during the entire presentation had used me as a distraction to take a seat she knew wasn’t rightfully hers. My daughter and I chose not to engage and sat in the next row, directly behind her.
The words about “being authentic” echoed in my mind again.
We patiently waited our turn, and my daughter finally met Dr. Angelou, telling her how excited she was to meet a legend. Dr. Angelou beamed with joy as she signed the book, writing, “Joy! Maya Angelou,” after my daughter’s name.
Last night, my daughter wrote her report for her class, impressively recalling many details from the event. She included a quote from Dr. Angelou, “I am human, so nothing human is alien to me,” and remembered her advice to practice courage little by little every day.
I feel saddened that we couldn’t take pictures, as it felt like we missed capturing the authentic moment that touched my nine-year-old’s soul and brought forth a symphony of emotions and thoughts. The reason behind the no-photo policy remains unknown to me, but I can’t help but wonder if it was connected to Dr. Angelou’s health condition with the oxygen tubes.
My daughter also noticed how someone else, another “doctor,” strayed from her core values and even her bucket list, setting us up to be scolded by others without taking responsibility for her actions. Being authentic should include owning up to one’s mistakes or adhering to rules and not causing confusion.
As I sit here, I am uncertain about what exactly I am feeling. However, one thing is clear: I’m disheartened that we learned about “being authentic” without witnessing a tangible example of what it truly means.
In conclusion, I encourage everyone to be authentic in their actions, words, and choices. And as for Dr. Maya Angelou, she remains an incredible and inspiring woman who has overcome numerous challenges and continues to touch the hearts of everyone fortunate enough to meet her. Despite her age and health issues, she radiates beauty and wisdom, leaving a lasting impact on all those she encounters.