Since Saturday something has milled in my mind. Minutes before the tragedy in Boston today, I shared my thoughts with my mom. The magic word I think was “authentic”. That’s what started these churning.
To give you a little background. Last week, my 9-year-old shared with her class that Maya Angelou would be at Barnes and Nobel in Winston-Salem. Her teacher mentioned Maya Angelou is a legend! This only magnified the experience for Miss M, now she looked forward to the book reading with eager anticipation.
We arrived twenty minutes before the designated time and still it was standing room only. Quietly, my children and I started the first row of “standing”. Here we over-looked the crowd and listened to the buzz of excitement. The woman next to me rambled how “Meeting Dr. Angelou has been on my bucket list since I was fourteen” and others around us shared similar thoughts. My daughter took it all in, listening to the stories that validated her teacher saying the woman who was about to appear before us was a legend.
We were given precise instruction on how to set up our book for when it came time to get it signed, “Dr. Angelou will only sign her most recent book, Mom & Me & Mom. All books will be personalized. Please take a sticky note and write the name of the person the book is to be signed and place it on the left side of the title page…..There are to be absolutely NO photographs at the request of Dr. Angelou.”
We all complied.
Dr. Angelou appeared and gave a fantastic speech. One of the things she discussed was “being authentic”. She read from her new book, answered questions and then the gathering went row by row to meet and have their copy of the book signed.
Somewhere in all this, a boy, a few years older than my daughter, was caught taking pictures of Dr. Angelou with his iPhone. Police called him out, one even approached and said, “No pictures. None. Zero. Zilch.”
It was then that Miss M looked up to me and asked, “Mom, why can’t we take pictures? Why doesn’t she want pictures?”
It was then I found myself thinking back to the moment in the talk where she defined “being authentic”. I told my daughter the only thing I could really gather based on what had transpired in the room…”Perhaps, Dr. Angelou doesn’t feel as beautiful as she did even a few days ago. She just celebrated turning 85 and as you see and heard her lung is partly collapsed and she is on oxygen. Perhaps she doesn’t want pictures of the oxygen tubes.”
The woman next to me, whose bucket list was about to cross something off, began sharing with me that she was a child psychiatrist. She had completed medical school….
I’m going to stop here and tell you what happened after half the rows had met with Dr. Angelou.
Maya Angelou was tired. She requested a break, but she was determined to meet each of us. The Barnes and Nobel staff communicated gracefully and let us know that row by row we would be moving forward. We would move as they requested so not to cause chaos.
As we approached moving the last row of “seated” guests, the Child Psychiatrist who was to my left, standing, worked her way into the row and took the seat on the end, saying that she knew where she was in line, but she needed to sit for a moment. When the last seated row was called, she grasped my arm and said, “C’mon” and pulled me with the seated row. I stood back and said, “It’s not our turn. We were not seated so if anything we would not be placed until the end of the row or first on the next row.”
An older man, with his wife, began accusing me and my daughter of cutting line. We had not entered the row that was filling and I was still sharing with the Barnes and Nobel staff that we had stood and it was not our turn. The older man continued to say, “They were standing”…at one point I directed my voice to him and said, “Sir. We are aware of where we are in this line and are in no way trying to take anyone’s place.”
Ironically, the educated woman who had been BEHIND us during the ENTIRE presentation was now seated well ahead of everyone in the last seated row. She had used me as a diversion to take a seat that she knew very well was not hers. Miss M and I sat in the next row, directly behind her and said nothing.
Those words about “being authentic” rang through my head again.
We waited our turn, Miss M met Dr. Angelou and told her, “Dr. Angelou, my teacher told me you are a legend and I am very excited to meet you.” She beamed with joy when she got her book back that Dr. Angelou had written her name followed by, “Joy! Maya Angelou”.
Last night Miss M wrote her report to share with her class. I was in awe at how much she remembered from the event. My 9-year old wrote, “Dr. Angelou quoted Terence and said I am human so nothing human is alien to me.” She also remembered, “her advice to children is to practice courage. Not all at once because we don’t lift a 100 pound weight right away, but little by little, everyday.”
I am saddened that pictures weren’t permitted. In a way I felt a little cheated out of the authentic being that touched a nine-year old’s soul and brought forth a symphony of music and thoughts. I truly do not know why pictures weren’t permitted, but it seems a logical way for someone to authenticate the experience of meeting a legend.
My nine-year old also recognized that someone who also preceded her name with “doctor” was deceitful to her own core values and perhaps even to her bucket list. An adult who set us up to be scolded by others, without stepping up and saying, “I don’ t belong where I am seated either” or even just falling back into line and sitting where you were “scheduled” to sit….that would have been authentic.
If my explanation to my daughter was correct, that Dr. Angelou didn’t want to be photographed due to the oxygen tubes, I am truly broken-hearted. She is an incredible woman who has overcome much to be blessed with abundance. She is 85 and our bodies wear out. She was amazing in touching the hearts of every last person who was there to meet her. She is beautiful!
So? As I sit here undecided on what it is I am feeling, I suppose I can, without doubt, say that I am saddened that we heard about “being authentic” but never given an example of what that truly means.