The day before my recent birthday, on May 28, I opened up Facebook to find an abundance of photos of and quotes by Maya Angelou. At first I did not think this odd. For one thing, the very nature of Facebook is that people “share” posts, and often throughout a day or series of days, certain topics become popular as a general shifting focus. The other reason I did not suspect anything amiss was because Maya Angelou was such a strong and inspirational woman, poet, writer, and activist that it seemed only right she would be an influential force in people’s threads. Maybe I was being ignorant or naive, but I had no suspicion she had passed. That’s how normal it felt to see her face and quotations such as these:
It wasn’t until a post popped up that showed the dates of her birth and her death (that very day) that I was struck with a ferocity of weighted loss as I realized the reason for all the posts was not merely due to her awesomeness and inspiration but because she was gone from the planet. Immediately tears flowed in an uncontrollable stream as I opened Google news and read the first article I found.
Let me say that while I am a highly emotional person who is easily swayed by sentimentality in books, movies, commercials even, it is not my usual mode to cry over the death of celebrities. Not even writers. I can feel deep sadness and a sense of loss, but tears don’t usually flow. The only other celebrity I actually cried over was John Denver. That might sound a weird choice–as if we actually have the power to choose how we react to such news–but as a child of the ’70s, John Denver’s music had been an influential force that carried over as the soundtrack to the raising of my own small children. But I digress.
Maya Angelou was not a figure from my childhood. I did not read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings until adulthood. I do not share similarities of upbringing: culture, class, race, religion, or regional influences. So why was it that her death moved me to tears?
I think it was her woman-ness. I think it was her general awesomeness of spirit. I think it was her words, her poetry, her soul. I think it was her resilience. Her voice. The way she spoke. Her wisdom, her insight. The way she carried herself, regal and confident and unassuming. I think it was the way she danced. I think it was her passion, humor, and style. And certainly, it was her compassion.
Here she is reciting her famous poem “Still I Rise”:
And for those of you who may have missed it, here is the link to the livestream (no longer live, of course) of Dr. Maya Angelou’s memorial service that took place this last Saturday June 7 in Wait Chapel at Wake Forest University:
Thank you, Maya Angelou. Phenomenal woman, that’s you.