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A Beautiful Journey (For Dr. Maya Angelou)

“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. Great-Auntie. Grandmama.

I started to cry as if someone I knew had passed.

I didn’t know Dr. Angelou personally.

But I had occasion to meet her once.

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 my life.

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.”

I chuckled.

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.


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