There’s nothing I hate more than when someone passes and the tributes come rolling out. Our heroes should hear the tributes and get the thanks before they die. So I sit here with the regret I knew I’d have for never sending that fan mail to Maya Angelou.
What held me back was, she’ll never read it anyway. Who’s to say she would even care? She’s heard it all before. But who’s to say she wouldn’t have read it, been touched, and even written me back? (That’s positive thinking. I stole it from my therapist friend.)
So now, without irony, I roll out my tribute to Dr. Angelou. I had the privilege of seeing her on two of her lecture tours in 2003 and 2006. She was still agile even moving in slow motion, so eloquent and funny, full of wonderful stories, bawdy, and even a little harsh. Tough love, but mostly love.
She spoke so much truth and beauty that I found myself scribbling what she was saying on the covers of my Playbill. Here is what she said (paraphrased, not direct quotes, from notes I scribbled on my Playbill in the dark ten years ago):
We all have the potential to touch. Our power to make the world a better place is immense.
Laugh as much as possible.
(On a young girl’s stubborn use of the n-word): It’s poison and it diminishes me. It diminishes us.
We are more alike than unalike. Too many facts hide the truth. If we truly internalized this our world would not be in the state that it’s in.
Be careful when a naked person offers you a shirt.
(On her uncle, who helped raise her): I am where I am today because somebody dared to be a light and shine on me. He made me love to learn. The power of the light to infect, to lead someone out of the dark, to dim, into the light; for each one of us who dares to think we can be of service – we are lights, and we have the possibility of lighting our family. It is time for us to take the responsibility of being lights.
I can still hear the breadth of her voice and the timber and cadence she used while saying those words, and I could’ve listened to it forever. She was mesmerizing. Once at a work convention we had to answer the question, “Who would you have dinner with if you could choose one celebrity?” and I chose her. That day I met and became friends with an amazing woman who I’ve kept in contact with for years since then. She said when I spoke Maya Angelou’s name, she thought, there’s a person I want to be friends with. So I have proof that Miss Angelou brought people together in ways she never knew.
The regret I have for not sending that fan mail reminds me of the time I saw Stan Lee in the lobby of a hotel and was too afraid to approach him. My husband tried to coach me on what to say but I was frozen. I even thought about writing him a letter too, explaining that the dork who was secretly trying to take his picture with her phone was too shy to say something like, you are amazing and your work is a gift and thank you so much for sharing it with us. (Well it WAS Comic-Con weekend and I’m sure the poor man had enough of weird people coming up and worshiping him to hold him for a long time.)
So, Stan Lee, thank you for the world you created that enthralls and entertains my sons and me. Thank you for sharing your creativity and stories and the life lessons snuck in there (or slammed over our heads with Thor’s hammer). Thank you for inspiring us to create as well.
Thank you to all the friends and mentors, famous or not, who have inspired me on the way. It takes a lot of support and guidance to keep a person going. It often comes in the smallest moments, when you’re least expecting it, sometimes from the last place you’d expect. In reflecting on Maya Angelou’s legacy, I hope to be more open to those moments.
And I take the responsibility of working as hard as I can to raise good people. During her lecture she recited some verse on the death of a loved one: “Look for me. I am present in the songs children sing. I’m living in the games children play.” That is where our work lives on and our light shines strongest.