Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Celebrating Maya Angelou

As I’m sure you already know, the magnificent Maya Angelou died this morning in her North Carolina home at the age of 86. While I certainly extend my sympathies to her family, friends, and the many members of the worldwide public who felt a strong even daily connection with her (she was on Facebook and was a frequent tweeter), I don’t feel a sense of loss as much as I feel a sense of celebration of and for her spirit. As a writer, she leaves behind a strong and sensitive body of work; and as a human being, teacher, and leader, she leaves behind such a courageous, proactive, and never-ending legacy, that I feel Dr. Angelou has a kind of immortality.

If Rosa Parks was the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement, Maya Angelou was it’s brave, bold daughter. After Bayard Rustin died, she took his place as the SCLC’s (Southern Christian Leadership Conference) New York Office Coordinator; that was the organization that Rustin and others had founded with Martin Luther King, Jr. She later worked with Malcolm X, helping him put together the Organization of Afro-American Unity in 1964. When Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968 – the date of her 40th birthday – she stopped celebrating her birthday for many years after. But before, during and after these significant events, hers was a booming voice and substantial presence in the movements for civil rights, women’s rights, and human rights. For the rest of her life, she lived and worked around the world as an organizer, administrator, teacher, speaker, writer, and the human embodiment of inspiration for millions of people, but most especially women.

For me personally, she entered my life with her first book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, in the years after I’d been awakened and inspired by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Kurt Vonnegut, and Allen Ginsberg, and, irritated by Nikki Giovanni and Ntozake Shange (I appreciated the politics of those women but their personalities and language left me cold). Maya Angelou’s prose was clean and had the imagery of poetry; her poetry was visionary and had the clarity of good, clean prose. She spoke like she wrote and wrote like she spoke, which to me is the totality of a born writer. Her spirit, her essence, was always with me, even when I didn’t know it. Which may be why I don’t feel a sense of loss now so much as a sense of celebration.

The other reason is that I’m a natural intuitive (clairsentient meaning clear knowing, as opposed to clairvoyant, meaning clear seeing), and for five years I also took psychic development classes with an amazing medium, the late Gene Sterling. A few weeks before Maya Angelou recited her great poem, On the Pulse of Morning, at Bill Clinton’s first Inaugural, I channeled an energy that gave me the first real sense of being a channel, because the following words certainly weren’t coming out of my consciousness (or attitude towards nature) as they fell out of my mouth: “The rocks have feet, the trees have feet, the rivers have feet.” I don’t remember the rest of the message, but I’ve never forgotten that line and the whole stunning experience.

So can you imagine how I felt on that January day when Maya Angelou began to recite On the Pulse of Morning and I heard her say: “A Rock, A River, A Tree.” I later bought the recording of that poem, for which she won a Grammy, and I still have it. Listening to her, and listening to that poem, convinced me like nothing else could, that ideas, messages, language, energy, are all around us all the time, and we can pick them up if we’re able to put our egos aside and listen. That’s why, in a way, I’ve long felt that Maya Angelou and I have been tuned into the same otherly frequency. She did much more and a whole lot better with it than I have. But it is in that spirit that I say to her this evening, “Thank you for everything, Dr. Angelou, for all you endured, all you did, all you said, and for just being here. Rest in peace and live well in spirit. I’m still listening.”

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