Dearest Dr. Marguerite Ann “Maya” Johnson Angelou,
I hope you don’t mind that I lovingly refer to you as Mama Maya. I’ve never met you in person, but I feel as though we know each other. We know each other, because we’ve both experienced and shared (to varying degrees) the bittersweet complexities of life as a Black woman in America. When you wrote, you knew someone like me would read it. As you lived your life, you knew that someone like me was watching. Either way, I could not only relate, but I could learn from you. In your words, in your journey, I have seen both a mirror and a compass, and I have learned in many ways how to navigate. You were, and will forever be, a north star.
Ironically, it has been almost 3 months since my last blog. I struggled, because I didn’t think that what I had to say carried much weight in the crushing atmosphere of media saturation. I caved to the pressure that came with just being myself and speaking from the heart. But today, I am reminded by you that I should share, because I matter. My perspective is worthy to be heard. It may not be perfect, but it might heal me and do something for someone else that reads it. You taught me that, much like my writing, there is absolutely nothing wrong with me, and that I should celebrate all that I am, confidently. Gracefully. So, I thank you for that.
I shed tears today, for the sense of selfish separation, and a hope for this imagined meeting that I someday hoped to have with you. I hoped to one day sit at your feet and observe the trinkets of wisdom from your travels, to personally witness the sparkle and fire in your eyes, to be wrapped in the warmth and humble majesty that you emit from the rays of your being, and to wrap your soothing voice around my soul like a blanket. But of course, the transition into the abyss behind the invisible veil of death is an inevitable one, and time did not permit our meeting. Still, I doubt that death is something you cowered from, because you refused to lead a life half-lived. You drank all of life’s nectar, ate all of its bittersweet fruit, and replanted the seeds in all of us. In this, I’m sure the world finds a sense of consolation and hope.
Mama Maya, I have often half-jokingly said that you are like my 3rd grandmother in my head. I do still have one surviving grandmother that I love and am very thankful for. But in reading your books and poems, hearing you speak in interviews, you bestowed upon me what any elder worth the weight of their golden years can give: the compassionate wisdom of a life well-lived.
Your legacy teaches me to live full and live fabulously, despite the toughest circumstances. You told me to find time to dance even when I’m sad, to be audacious even when I’m terrified, to live even when I want to lay down and die, and to continue to fight with all of the strength that I have for the respect that I deserve. You remind me to love, nurture, and protect myself so that I can live a fulfilling life and be of better service to others. To value myself highly, yet be humble. To mean what I say and stand firmly behind it, but to change my perspective for the better when I need to. To give, to love, to never abandon a sense of humor, and to be positive. You spoke to my desire to be compassionate and forgiving, despite the evil in the world. You continued to relate to people as human first, to unite and collaborate with all walks of life against all injustices. Your words, your example help to ground me.
You once said:
My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.
This embodies the essence of my soul’s desire, and I will try my best to live up to it and exceed it. Thanks for setting the example.
You are much too grand to condense the body of your life’s work and love into one page. However, today, as every other day, I celebrate the singer, dancer, writer, poet, actress, healer, survivor, giver, mother, sister, friend, activist, world traveler, and global citizen in you that I hope to continue to cultivate in me.
May the ancestors greet you, their daughter, with pride and adoration at the great work that you’ve done, and the strength that you’ve shown in doing so. I hope that when I make that transition, whenever that is, that I can be greeted in the same deserving fashion.
Once again, thank you. We love you, Mama Maya.