The Miriam of Her People: In Honor of Dr. Maya Angelou 1928-2014
Because we have forgotten our ancestors our children no longer give us honor.
Because we have lost the path our ancestors cleared, kneeling in perilous undergrowth, our children cannot find their way.
Because we have banished the God of our ancestors, our children can not pray….Dr. Maya Angelou, The Black Family Pledge.
How do you poetically memorialize a great poet? You can’t, especially when her life was itself, a form of poetry. Mother, daughter, granddaughter, actress, dancer, writer, activist, friend, teacher, mentor, avid cook and cultural luminary, Maya Angelou is gone, at age 86. A survivor of child abuse, life on the streets, Jim Crow segregation and the strife of history and circumstance that took so many of her friends—Malcolm, Martin, James Baldwin& others; Maya Angelou was bigger than her hometown of Stamps, Arkansas could hold. She was our Miriam; our discoverer of oases and maker of wells, a songstress whose poetry cataloged a spirit of change borne in an ancient tradition.
Maya Angelou was an incredible inspiration to many. She challenged us to enter the interior world of a human being, who happened to be African American, who happened to be her—from her childhood through her sunset years. Dr. Angelou was a “Phenomenal Woman,” who found her way into millions of lives through her autobiographical writing, poetry, performances and her dedication to truth. Her delivery of her poem, “On the Pulse of Morning,” in 1993, changed my life. It was one of many encounters with “Sister” Angelou’s work that reframed my mental universe.
Sometimes it is better to never meet your heroes. They remain as holy to you as the first time you heard their voice or met them on paper. No stories of akwardness, miscommunication or missed opportunities to say or hear something lifechanging. No dreams of perfect moments dashed. At first I was sad I never had the chance to meet Dr. Angelou; now I know that to the degree that I’ve met her everyday in my work, she has fulfilled her notion that people can forget your words or deeds, but they cannot forget how you made them feel.
Consider the story of tea cakes in her groundbreaking autobiographical work, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. Her mature, ladylike behavior is rewarded by Mrs. Flowers with lemonade and the quintessential Southern treat, the tea cake. When she returns home she informs her brother Bailey that “By the way,” tea cakes had been sent for him as, well. She is promptly whipped. Her grandmother is incensed and breaks off a switch from a peach tree and whips all three children, praying before she delivered the blows.
I doubt that Debbie Schlussel has ever heard of Michael Twitty, He is an African-American historian who also happens to be a devout Jew.
Here is some “brain bleach” and “soul Lysol” to make up for yesterday’s Derp thread.