Maya Angelou. She is many things wrapped up in human form. Her life is one of tragedy turned triumph. Today my nine year old daughter was introduced to Maya Angelou, Speaker and Author.
We attended the Maya Angelou book signing at Barnes & Noble in Angelou’s residing city, Winston-Salem. The weather set the stage with a perfect spring day. The leaves danced in the breeze outside the standing room only where we all eagerly awaited the arrival of Angelou. We were given strict instruction on NO photographs. We followed directions, setting our copies of Maya Angelou’s new book, Mom&Me&Mom for the author to autograph.
Stars did not shoot across the sky. There was no thunder and lightning. The lights didn’t dim. It was simply that she appeared from behind the rows of books, pushed in her wheelchair, until she was seated behind a table with a lime sherbet colored table covering. She asked for a glass of water.
By all accounts, nothing really stood out that made Angelou appear any different than anyone else in the room. The crowd was culturally diverse. There were young and old, black and white, male and female skinny and fat. Our common thread was the ordinary woman that sat at the table.
We were here to see Maya Angelou and as her voice came faintly across the sound system her ordinary transformed into extraordinary.
She began almost immediately quoting Terence, “Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto“, or “I am a human being, I consider nothing that is human alien to me.” She gave her interpretation how we are all human. That in the company of humans we understand. We don’t have to speak the same language. We understand why we weep, smile, cry, laugh and feel lonely.
She spoke to the children encouraging them to be courageous. Not all at once, but slowly. Her comparison was that we don’t start by lifting a 100 pound, we start with less weight and build ourselves up.
Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.
For nearly forty minutes, the celebrated author, who celebrated turning 85 last week, touched our hearts, sharing her stories of growing up. Touching the hearts of each person in the room differently and yet similar. Her speaking captured her smile, her joy, her celebration in life as well as failures as she spoke of being raped when she was five and how after her rapist served a mere one day in jail the policemen arrived to say the man had been murdered. She believed it was her voice that had murdered him. She did not speak for six years. Still, her grandmother always reminded her that Maya would become somebody and she believed in her.
It was my first time seeing and hearing Angelou. I can’t claim that I am familiar with her work. I listened to the stories of the people in the room share how this moment was something on their bucket list.
We waited for another hour and a half to have our copy of Mom & Me & Mom autographed. My nine year old went first and as Dr. Angelou personalized the message and gave her autograph, I heard my daughter say, “Dr. Angelou, my teacher says you are a legend! I am so excited to meet you!”
I went in the door not knowing much about her, but when I exited, through the same door, I was a fan. If not for the music Maya Angelou stirred in my heart, but for the orchestra that was playing in my daughter’s soul!