I would be absolutely remiss if I did not spend a bit of time honoring the absolutely indomitable presence that has left us physically today and yet has left us with plenty to think and wonder about for years to come: Dr. Maya Angelou. As she passed away today at 86, it is not her age that we meet with surprise, but the life in her years. I found out today that she had 50 honorary degrees. 50. I don’t own 50 anything. Maybe 50 socks, but God knows they aren’t ever in the same room at one time, so how could I count them? Ariel in The Little Mermaid only had 20 thingmabobs. Probably because she spent too much time singing about said thingmabobs to gather anymore, but you get the point.
Angelou was a force. She sang and danced professionally. She wrote screenplays, music, poetry, and 30 best-selling books. She spoke 5 different languages, and yet wielded English with a mastery that is unrivaled to this day. Dr. Angelou is one of the most accomplished people the world has ever known.
And yet, with all that said, I do not have an adequate grasp of the English language, after studying it for most of my life, to truly capture Angelou’s legacy. I’ve circled this issue like a hawk all day, and my wings are undoubtedly tired, but I have nothing to show for it. I thought about compiling some of her greatest quotes to marvel at (and believe me, I would have been here all night attempting to do so) or a list of 10 things that Maya Angelou has taught the writing world (another insurmountable task due to the depth of her talent). I also got in the ring to box with the idea of delving into what most biographies and news stories will undoubtedly gloss over in the days following her death: the fact that she was raped at 7 and worked for a time as a stripper. I feel that these aspects of her life are not inflammatory, but instead they make her even more tangible as a human. As anyone who has ever achieved a large amount of success can attest, a person’s humanity can be obscured when all of their accomplishments are rattled off in a block of text at the close of their time here on earth at the close of a day on a news report. We need to preserve all parts of Angelou’s legacy as well as her humanity. However, it would truly take another 86 years, another lifetime, to celebrate Angelou in all of her glory. And even then, it might just take that long to frame all of those honorary degrees she was awarded.
And so, I will not continue to summarize Angelou’s life, nor compress it, nor dilute it. She is a woman that lived her life out loud, and she does not need me or anyone else, for that matter, to speak for her. Even in death, she has that rare ability to make people listen. I’ll leave you with this video of Angelou reading her own poem, “Still I Rise,” with that sultry, deeply-dwelling voice of hers and enough sass to shake the very foundations of your own self-confidence. Here’s to you, Dr. Angelou. May no one ever reduce you to less than you are, in words or otherwise.