Phenomenal Woman

Posted May 28, 2014

The most impactful literary work I received as a child was “And Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou. The book was given to me by my parents. I have read every poem in this book, among other works from Maya, and learned what it meant to be a girl and a woman in the world from her lyrics. I learned about empowerment and love, strife and courage. Maya gave me permission to take up space in this world, to use language and communication to build bridges, to live beyond the limiting and confining tropes of a diminutive womanhood or an obedient girl. Maya gave me the courage to express both the uplifting and the heartbreaking, the hopeful and the horrific, and to do so with the understanding that to give voice to our experiences as girls, as women, gives other women the permission and space to do the same.

I was taken aback by my sadness when I learned of Maya’s passing this morning. The loss of Maya, while woman are actively airing their shared experiences under #YesAllWomen, reinforces to me how important it is to give voice to our experiences. I look forward to sharing her work with my own daughter, Jonah, who will learn new lessons from her words, as I did, as she grows and finds her own power.

Maya, thank you for your courage in life. We are so blessed to be left with your words and your legacy.

In her own words:

When Great Trees Fall
Maya Angelou

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
gnaws on kind words
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.