Punched in the gut by Maya Angelou

Maya Music

Maya Angelou, pictured above with Louis Langrée and the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (and shamelessly borrowed from the From the Top facebook page).


“Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.”  – Maya Angelou.

Seriously, y’all. Is that not the most incredible quote about music you’ve ever heard?

When my colleague shared the fresh-off-the-twitter presses news that Maya Angelou passed away, I actually let out a little whine…or maybe it was a moan. Regardless, it was a sound of dismay and instant belief that heaven, a place that, when I’m at my most rational, I’m not sure exists, had welcomed a new grand dame. And I was instantly seized by the most amazing imagined tableau.

My grandma has been on my mind lately, as, prompted by #YesAllWomen and other such discussion, I ponder this concept of “women” and how we should be working for change in this messed up and messy world. Maya has not been my mind.  Not until that very moment, at least, but she should have been. Anyway, I instantly pictured them, in matching rocking chairs, looking down on me. My Grandma would say to Maya, shaking her head with fond affection: “Good grief, when is that girl going to catch herself a man?” and Maya would say something like “You leave that girl be, Stella, she’s doing just fine.” – and they would debate my relative merits and lack thereof and end up hooting with laughter before too long.

This is a pretty detailed scenario for a psyche that hasn’t had Maya on the brain in a while, at least since she was supposed to make an appearance at the library in my former town. At the time, as I watched the drama of her appearance being announced, of tickets selling out in seconds, and the dark side of supposedly enlightened people coming out as the social webs exploded in outrage over the lack of tickets, I idly wondered why I felt such love for Maya when I wasn’t sure I’d read more than that one book we all read in 9th grade, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. For the record, Maya cancelled that appearance because of bad health and wrote probably the most amazing apology letter ever. With thanks to Sarah, you can read it here.

Full confession: I don’t remember much about that book. It didn’t rock my worldview and change how I saw myself. But Maya Angelou, the woman, the cultural icon…she is a fixture in my own memories of growing up. I couldn’t tell you anything else that she wrote; I know she read a poem at President Clinton’s inauguration (thanks again to Sarah’s post, I saw the video). But beyond that? Apparently she was just THERE, in my head, in more ways than I knew.

I know this because there are quotes popping up on facebook, and each time I read one, it feels like a physical blow, one that pushes my stomach muscles back toward my spine and forces the breath out of my lips in a reverent “puuff”. A little ache stabs my heart, because the quotes chastise me, or so perfectly capture how I feel that it hurts. Just a bit.

Not everyone loved Maya Angelou. It’s important to remember that. But she left us with issues to ponder, demons to wrestle with, and lots and lots of quotes to make our facebook feeds more inspiring.

So here one that is making the rounds that many of you have heard, but is pretty stunning in its truth:

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

And this one, which many of you probably haven’t heard, and which I feel might be the best piece of advice EVER for managers:

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

Sheesh. I might have to tattoo that one on to my shoulder or something. Thanks to Laurie for sharing it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to find some Maya Angelou books to read.

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