Today I experienced a significant moment – I woke up to a notification from CNN that Maya Angelou passed away. I felt this incredible pang of sadness but wasn’t sure why. Yes, Dr. Angelou’s quotes had been all over my life. Yes, I’d read many of her poems. Yes, I’d watched her Oprah interview. But I’d done things like this with many other celebrities who’ve passed and I didn’t feel quite the same way. I posted a simple quote from the great orator on my Facebook;
If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.
I went about my day unable to fully shake the feeling I’d had this morning. I ate my lunch. I talked to my partner. I crossed tasks off my to-do list. Nothing was out of the ordinary. My work day ended at 6 and as I walked to my car I reflected on the day I’d had – not bad, got a lot done. I got into my car and fired up NPR – the evening news caster was doing a piece about Maya’s life (I’m not sure if she’d approve of me just going by her first name but I’ll go out on a limb.) At the end of the piece they played a recording they’d had of Angelou’s performance of “Still I Rise.” And as she read each line of the poem I started to sob uncontrollably. That feeling was back again.
This time, I knew exactly where it came from.
Earlier this week my friend Keyko invited me to see her perform at a local open mic event. I obliged and did my usual thing – watch, listen, reflect. Keyko came over and said, “you have to perform something tonight…you just have to.” I shrugged…uttered a “maybe.” I looked through my phone’s notes where I keep all my writing and found the first poem I’d written a long time ago. I mustered up some kind of strength, walked over to the person with the sign-up list, and boldly wrote my name. Fifteen minutes later it was my turn.
Here’s the piece I performed;
Let’s talk for a second about the man who stands in front of you
The man who is strong
The man who knows where he comes from
The man who loves with the strongest convictionLet’s talk for a second about who this man once wasThat boy who was raised brokenCowering in a corner, shielding himself from the onslaughtFrom the relentless blowsAnd still he risesThat man found a way out of his abuseEven when no one would helpHe became successful, achieving every goal he imaginedHe learned how to love, and how to feel, and how to let people inBut he’s not perfectHe has his momentsThose moments when he looks aroundAnd realizes that he is aloneThat he is now back in the corner from where he was once liberatedLike his grandmother and great grandmother, the one time slavery coursing through his veinsWait, that shit ain’t genetic, is it?It might beBecause he is now a slave to the if onlyIf only he was funnierIf only he was smarterIf only he was more attractiveIf only he was more pureIf onlyIf onlyIf onlyAnd then he’s reminded that because it happens once beforeHe will still riseHe will be that man that deserves the love of his peopleThat man who loves himselfThat man who his kindNurturingGenerousSmartAnd, oh yeah, hella sexyAnd still he risesLet’s talk for a second about the man who stands in front of youThe man who loves, who is still a boy sometimesThe man who enduresThe man who rises.
I hadn’t ever read Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise” but clearly, the messages that she embedded in this iconic piece were so (passively) influential to me that I couldn’t help but channel her tribute to inner strength.
As I continue on this journey, this path of life, I challenge myself to never forget my strength, my power, my worth. I have persevered and overcome odds many thought were impossible. I have been to the deepest, darkest, and loneliest places.
And Still I Rise.
Rest In Power and Thank You, Maya Angelou.