“I was raped when I was very young. I told my brother the name of the person who had done it. Within a few days the man was killed. In my child’s mind—seven and a half years old—I thought my voice had killed him. So I stopped talking for five years.” – Maya Angelou
Someday soon, I will find a more appropriate space to fully pour out how yesterday’s news of Maya leaving us felt to me. It still feels too personal to share. And in a way, that is the power of the singer, actress, advocate, and of course writer Maya Angelou. Each person has a personal story with her. Incredible, considering that most of my life, she was an “elder.” But she didn’t come out writing self-help books, or “I have arrived so I know all the answers” essays. Maya wrote about intangible pains that are deeper than any cut, and was an ambassador of progress–not perfection. Simply put, she showed us light through the dark pages of her life.
When I was younger, I too wrote poetry. It was my first escape–that and drawing. And while I also sang, and thought I had a pretty voice, I never wanted to be heard–even when I was the soloist. My voice, like my art, was angry, with no room for Disney like melodies. So I wrote whatever my limited vocabulary would let me write. I imitated often, mostly Psalms and Shakespeare. And when I came across Dr. Angelou, I found that even though I was reading her words, it felt like I was talking to her…and that Maya was actually listening. I related to her pain of silence in ways I wish I never have. And while I could talk, I, too, have gone through waves of being internally mute. The noise in our lives have an interesting way of squashing our song.
Before Maya’s earthly departure, I was preparing for a self-inflicted wound of a writing challenge (that’s how I looked at it at the time). This is not uncommon, since I often quietly kill myself with nauseating deadlines that leave me in a drunklike stupor when I’m finished. While I have met my half-year bucket list goals (created and shot my first episode for a webseries and wrote a tv pilot…time will tell if they are actually good, but I never turned down a reason to toast it up), there was a nagging sensation that wouldn’t go away. And it’s been there for about five years now…and I knew why. Because the character being tortured in this delayed writing project is not a made up person. It’s me. Finally, to get the voices outside my head, I declared: SELF, June is the month to get cracking! 30 minutes of writing, every night, for 30 days. It felt like a necessary evil that had to be tackled.
Enter noise. Yup, as life would have it, this last week in May has been incredibly hectic with work–all of which requires major writing. I thought all my energy to write was going to be depleted after each speech, grant query, pitch. The passing of Maya made it even more difficult to concentrate, because I wanted to spend all day reading her work…not editing concept proposals. And then I saw her last tweet:
Like many, I was like that person in church who wasn’t paying attention at first…and then all of a sudden the preacher says something that is about you, or that you needed right at that moment. And then next thing you know, your surroundings don’t matter. You cry, you shout, you do whatever you have to do to tell the universe “THAT message…was mine!” And that’s how I took her tweet. And what stood out the most to me was her secret.
a state of stillness, calmness, and quiet in a person or place.
I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings is largely an extension of Maya’s quietude. It is the evidence of what happens when a silenced self takes back silence in the midst of noise. Even when faced with brutality and seemingly no escape, her last tweet reminds us that sometimes being still is the best (and only) escape we need. She connects self to our Creator–the ultimate Lamp to our path, even when things look dark. I was reminded about the power of God and His voice. But I was also reminded about the power of “me.” We were created with the ability to create peace in ourselves, for ourselves.
I firmly believe that when you have something to say, it will not leave you alone until you spit it out. And the fear of it is something even Maya related to. She once stated that “making the decision to write was a lot like deciding to jump into a frozen lake.” But where would humanity be without her jump? Where will be without yours…or mine? So as I prepare for my June writing journey (and so glad some of you have already expressed being a part), I end this piece with some quotes of Dr. Angelou I’ll be reflecting on in anticipation of Sunday’s launch: Maya’s tweet was a remix of a classic we should never forget and exercise liberally:No longer caged to this world, I cannot wait to sit and chat with you in the next. You are missed, you are loved. Thank you Dr. Maya Angelou.#IfyThursdays(if you would like to be a part of the writing challenge, email firstname.lastname@example.org. No spam, I promise. Just a daily encourager to keep you motivated).