Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Letter To My Daughter

It's no secret that I love social media. I really do. I've reconnected with dozens of friends — from high school, college, various old jobs, the theatre company I was in back in the 1970s. And, I've made some new friends too. One of the greatest joys of my life is getting a second chance with people. Someone I barely knew who turns out to be so special — or merely so much like me.

I'm by no means as adept at navigating the etherweb as my teenage daughter, but I do make an effort in my limited middle-aged mom way. I post updates, I hit "like," I share, and I check my newsfeed. Most days, this brings a smile to my face.

Today, it made my eyes well up as I moaned to myself a simple "No."

Dr. Maya Angelou, American poet laureate, has died.

We read I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings when I was in ninth grade (I think). Having read novels mostly about white girls (written by white women or often white men), I found it eye-opening. Here was a world so alien and yet so achingly familiar. Angelou had a wondrous ability (skill? talent? magic power?) to cut directly to what is human about all of us.

Just the titles of her books and poems are enough to inspire me to write (and make me despair of ever being able to craft anything remotely worthy): 

Wouldn't Take Nothing For My Journey Now
All God's Children Need Traveling Shoes
A Cradle To Hold Me
Even The Stars Look Lonesome
And Still I Rise

In 2008, Dr. Angelou published a collection of essays, Letter to My Daughter. As she explained,

“I gave birth to one child, a son, but I have thousands of daughters. You are Black and White, Jewish and Muslim, Asian, Spanish speaking, Native Americans and Aleut. You are fat and thin and pretty and plain, gay and straight, educated and unlettered, and I am speaking to you all. Here is my offering to you.”

The book is filled with the author's remarkable reminiscences as well as profound advice for young women. From brief truths:

“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.” 

“A friend may be waiting behind a stranger's face.” 

“The human heart ... tells us that we are more alike than we are unalike.” 

“Make every effort to change things you do not like. If you cannot make a change, change the way you have been thinking.” 

“Never whine. Whining lets a brute know that a victim is in the neighborhood.” 

To more thoughtful meditations:

“Let's tell the truth to people. When people ask, 'How are you?' have the nerve sometimes to answer truthfully. You must know, however, that people will start avoiding you because, they, too, have knees that pain them and heads that hurt and they don't want to know about yours. But think of it this way: If people avoid you, you will have more time to meditate and do fine research on a cure for whatever truly afflicts you.” 

“I believe that one can never leave home. I believe that one carries the shadows, the dreams, the fears and the dragons of home under one's skin, at the extreme corners of one's eyes and possibly in the gristle of the earlobe.” 

“The charitable say in effect, 'I seem to have more than I need and you seem to have less than you need. I would like to share my excess with you.' Fine, if my excess is tangible, money or goods, and fine if not, for I learned that to be charitable with gestures and words can bring enormous joy and repair injured feelings.” 

“I am convinced that most people do not grow up. We find parking spaces and honor our credit cards. We marry and dare to have children and call that growing up. I think what we do is mostly grow old. We carry accumulation of years in our bodies and on our faces, but generally our real selves, the children inside, are still innocent and shy as magnolias ... We may act sophisticated and worldly but I believe we feel safest when we go inside ourselves and find home, a place where we belong and maybe the only place we really do.” 

I just ordered a copy of the book for my daughter.

Rest in peace, Maya Angelou. And, from the bottom of my heart, as a woman, as a mother and as a human being, thank you.

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