“I toss my head up to the silver sky/
And, then I sigh -- look at all
the blessings in my life.”
– Teena Marie, “Irons in the
Fire” (now playing)
Today, Wednesday, May 28, 2014 started
off as a rather unremarkable day.
That all changed when mid-morning
when I learned that Dr. Maya Angelou had made her transition. I had to pause. We,
after all, have lost our wise elder. Our fearless poet. Our grandmother.
I started to cry as if someone I
knew had passed.
I didn’t know Dr. Angelou
But I had occasion to meet her
She was the speaker at my
freshman class opening convocation in August, 1997. She spoke and sang about
her journey. “I’m on my journeyyy now” her rich contralto rang out from the
rafters of the Duke Chapel.
I’m sure she also spoke wise
words about our mission and our responsibilities as beneficiaries of the knowledge
that would be bestowed upon us by one of the nation’s great universities. But
truth be told, I don’t remember much else about her speech.
You see, it wasn’t what she said
from the podium, but what she did that day that made an indelible impact upon
After her speech was over, a
handful of us stuck around to try to get a glimpse of the legendary poet and
civil rights activist.
We lined the outside walkway of
the chapel. Nearby, I remember a graduate divinity student joked: “If I could
just touch the hem of her garment, I’ll be made whole.”
But, then she appeared. And,
immediately, I knew what he meant.
She walked lightly, smiling,
jovial, as if she knew each of us. She greeted the line of people warmly.
But as she approached me, she
stopped briefly, looked at me as if she knew me and said one word: “Beauty,”
stretching the last y out as if out for a leisurely walk and she stopped at a
stand for lemonade.
I didn’t know this lady, keep in
mind. But sometimes God puts people in your path at just the right time and
just for the right purpose. This was one of those times.
You see, as a new student in a
strange state on a strange campus, I was in unfamiliar territory. The
confidence I had in high school was being forced to battle with self-doubt and
feelings of inadequacy.
And then, there was that color thing. As a lanky deep
brown-skinned girl, to that point, I had never thought I was truly beautiful.
But at that moment, when Dr.
Angelou said it I returned her smile. Something about the way she said, the
fact that she, Maya Angelou, said it,
made it as good as gospel.
It was a simple word. But,
indicative of a larger point.
As the Bible says, your words can
bring death or life.
Dr. Angelou was and is beloved,
because she always chose the latter.
Rest peacefully, Dr. Angelou.
You lived a life of beauty. And,
you’re on your journey now.