One day bleeds into the next - before we know it, time has sped up too fast, and inquiring minds wonder, “What have we done with our lives?”
I asked myself that question on the morning of May 28, 2014 when I learned that Dr. Maya Angelou had passed away. A being who seemed to be made of the strongest clay and the sweetest stardust left us to take her rightful place in the afterlife, and I wondered, “What have I done with my life?”
Media soundbites in the days to come will attempt to define Maya Angelou in neat and tidy fashion, but the magnificence of her life was the fact that it defied nearly every box anyone tried to put it in. Media soundbites will attempt to crunch her 86 years into a few truncated phrases palatable enough for our ever-narrowing attention spans, but the majesty of her life was the fact that it demanded our attention. Poet. Author. Activist. Shake dancer. Rape survivor. Fry cook. Sex worker. Actor. Director. Producer. Journalist. Teacher. Mother. Lover. Liver of life. This (and much more) was Maya Angelou, and within these identities, she gave the world some of the greatest gifts it has ever received.
Dr. Angelou’s works and life experiences gave liberation and presence to Black girls and women who craved multi-faceted representation. She gave us ways to verbalize the love, pain, and desires that burned in the pits of our bellies, and provided a vocabulary to say the things we never thought we could. She embodied the curious contradictions of strength and vulnerability, the raw and the refined, the power of silence and the power of a voice crying out to be heard. Because she did, we learned we could too, and I know I’m not alone in becoming OK with my complexities thanks in part to Dr. Angelou’s display of hers.
Her works were infused with and informed by African-American history and diasporic reference, and added a new layer to the Black pride movements across the generations. Though she touched and inspired millions around the world, it was clear from her work - on stage, in the written word, through music and more - that she was unapologetic in her upliftment of Black people. Through her life and her work, she motivated us to continue the climb, knowing that all the while, she would be there to guide and cheer us on.
Her presence as something of a spiritual genius meant that she moved us to be better than we were the day before. Her quotes serve as food for the soul, nourishing us when we didn’t realize we were starving. She had a phrase for nearly every life circumstance, and in her infinite wisdom she chose words that hit you square in your heart and head, daring you to try to forget them.
We could never forget them, and we can never forget her. Maya Angelou will remain an indelible part of the world’s history whose greatest lesson was probably to inspire us all to live the fullness of our own lives. There can never be another Maya Angelou, and any attempts to recreate the mold will be futile. What there can be is the best version of you and I - the version that lives life from one end to the next, striving for greatness and designed by magnificence and majesty. Rest in peace, Dr. Maya Angelou.
Read more of by Bee Quammie's tribute to Maya Angelou on her blog '83 to Infinity.