Maya Angelou died on May 28, 2014, four days ago. When I heard the news, a moment from “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” a book of hers I had read a long time ago, rose up into my memory. The jolt it created was as strong as it was back then. Here’s how I remember it.
She wrote of the night when she and her mother snuck into the office of the town’s white dentist; round to the back and ever so quiet. Both shaking. It was after hours, of course, and close to midnight. No coloreds allowed anywhere near there. Her toothache was splitting her head in half but if they were caught–oh, boy. The two of them, and possibly the dentist, would have been tossed in jail to face unthinkable brutalities.
Just last year in 2013 Maya Angelou appeared before an audience filled with respect for her, a woman whose strong soul reached far beyond itself to enfold all of us, everywhere. Accepting the Norman Mailer Lifetime Achievement Award, she said, “Just Imagine.” And after a pause she said, “Just IMAGINE.”
Her warm, low, heavy voice resonated right out of the video into the center of my being.
Yes, Maya Angelou, a little girl in the 1930’s raised in Sparks, Arkansas, a dot in the deepest of the deep south, was now receiving another in a litany of high honors for her poetry, autobiographies and speeches; work that illuminates the way to decent, moral, O.K. behavior amongst human beings.
If I had been her friend, and oh how I wish that could have been, I would have tried to absorb her unique humanity into my psyche. How extraordinary that would have been. It tickles me that she fudged about how many husbands she had during her lifetime. She didn’t want to project a flighty image. I love her.