“Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.” ~ Maya Angelou
When I was in 3rd grade, in a small rural elementary school in North Carolina, our teacher, Mrs. Thomas, read to us each day after gym. We would come into the room, our bodies sweaty and for the moment tired, put our heads down on our desks, and for thirty minutes she read to us. Mrs. Thomas read us numerous books over the course of the year, but the one I remember is Matilda because Matilda changed how I read. There is a passage in the book that describes how young Matilda, her mind curious and hungry, read all the books in the children’s section of the library. Afterward, Matilda carefully approaches the librarian and asks what she should read next. The librarian sets Matilda on a course of the classics, and she reads through Hemingway, Brontë, and Shakespeare to name a few. I was determined to do the same thing. So I did.
When I was a child, my Mama took my siblings and me to the library once a week. On the library day after my introduction to Matilda, I checked out The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Slowly and methodically I plodded my way through it. Did I understand everything I read? No, I did not. But that is a good thing. I am glad eight-year-old me did not understand that after Titus Andronicus killed Tamora’s sons he baked them into a pie and served them to his guests at dinner (Titus Andronicus remains my least favorite Shakespearean play). Over the next few months, I worked my way through every book Matilda read. Some I liked (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is still one of my favorites), some I did not (Sorry, Hemingway), but the experience cemented into place my love of literature and expanded my literary horizons forever.
I am still an avowed bibliophile. After people, books are my favorite things and I devour them rapaciously. For me, the best thing about books is how they take you out of yourself and broaden your viewpoint. They help you escape into a new world and simultaneously facilitate a better understanding of the world you live in.
Books are magical, and the people who create them are some of the most influential beings in my world. I admire the works of many authors: authors who challenge my way of thinking, who inform, and who delight. But it is an author who produces emotion in me that I want to celebrate. Dr. Maya Angelou wrote, “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.” Dr. Angelou makes me feel strong.
I would argue she is able to engender this feeling in me because she wrote from a place of hard-won strength and because she valued courage. On what would have been her ninetieth birthday, her son Guy Johnson wrote, “For my mother, the most important virtue was courage, because without courage none of the other virtues can be practiced consistently.” When I read Maya Angelou’s work, I feel like I can do anything. No task is impossible if I commit myself, focus my energy, and apply my mind to it. I have read a lot of Angelou in my life.
Not only does Dr. Angelou make me feel strong, she makes me feel strong because I am a woman. Society may still underestimate the power of women, but never Dr. Angelou. We, women, are phenomenal, and Dr. Angelou knew it. I have always loved being a woman, but I never realized the strength of my stride and my inner mystery until Dr. Angelou pointed it out to me. Dr. Angelou helped me more wholly appreciate the fullness of me.
Dr. Angelou makes me believe in love, and in the triumph of love. In writing about Dr. Angelou, her son said:
She saw one of our greatest challenges was learning to love ourselves, then having the courage and the wisdom to love others. She often said, “We don’t know how or why love occurs. Truthfully, we don’t know that even gravity isn’t a kind of love.” She felt that love was one of the most important emotions and was an instrumental key to unlocking the inner doors of our ignorance and fear.
You see this belief in her work, in her poetry, and in her life. It amazes me because if ever anyone had cause to doubt the power of love, it was Dr. Angelou. Her early life was marked by a traumatic sexual assault and she had several rocky romantic relationships. Given this history, it would be understandable for her to be a little bitter about love, but she never was. Instead, she wrote, “Have enough courage to trust love one more time and always one more time.” When my heart feels battered, I remember that and gather my courage to love again. To love, not only in a romantic sense but in a personal sense, as well. Most of us know it is not only romantic love that can bruise our hearts. Our friends and our family can also make our hearts cry. But Maya Angelou inspires me to love without fear, in all my relationships.
I believe every human is a work-in-progress. We grow and develop our entire lives; hopefully, becoming the best version of ourselves in the process. I include myself in that assessment, and I am grateful I to be a work-in-progress. You see, this current version of me has a number of flaws. That’s okay, though, because I am not going to stay this way. I’m growing, and as I grow, Maya Angelou encourages me along the way. She reminds me to rise and be strong; to have courage because despite my flaws I am phenomenal, and to love passionately as I go. For those reminders, I say, “Thank you, Dr. Angelou. And thank you for the company.”
© Julie Wright 2018