Maya Angelou: What She Said Life Taught Her

As a little girl, even in kindergarten, I wrote stories. In fourth grade, my elderly teacher introduced me to poetry.

I used to write poem after poem after poem. It was as if I had re-discovered the world — or my senses. Poetry taught me about the beauty of being human.

Maya Angelou was one of the first poets with whose words I connected. Yet, now as I look back on those first Maya Angelou poems that I read, I realize that I knew very little about their beauty. In my youth, I barely knew the meaning of suffering. Now in my adulthood, having gone through emotional and physical pain, I admire Maya Angelou more than ever. Remember I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings? Even in my innocence, I saw its beauty, but now having suffered abuse, having felt trapped, I see Angelou’s brilliance.

She was the caged bird who dared to sing.

Here is what she said life taught her:


“If I think of my life as a class, and what I’ve really learned, I’ve learned a few things. First, I’m aware that I’m a child of God. It’s such an amazing understanding to think that the ‘It’ which made fleas and mountains and rivers and stars, made me. What I pray for is humility; to know that there’s something greater than I.

And I have to know that the brute, the bigot, and the batterer are all children of God — whether they know it or not — and I’m supposed to treat them accordingly. It’s hard, and I blow it all the time!

I’d like everybody to think of a statement by Terence. The statement is: ‘I am a human being. Nothing human can be alien to me.’ If you can internalize at least a portion of that, you will never be able to say of a criminal act, ‘Oh, I couldn’t do that,’ — no matter how heinous a crime. If a human being did it, you have to say, ‘I have all the components that are in her or in him. I intend to use my energies constructively as opposed to destructively.’

If you can do that about the negative, just think what you can do about the positive! If a human being dreams a great dream, dares to love somebody, if a human being dares to be Martin King or Mahatma Ghandi or Mother Teresa or Malcom X, if a human being dares to be bigger than the condition into which she or he was born, it means: So can you! And so, you can try to stretch! Stretch! Stretch yourself!

So, you can internalize: ‘Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto.’ I am a human being. Nothing human can be alien to me.

That’s one thing I’m learning.”

May we dare to stretch and to sing.

Dear Doctor Angelou, may you forever compose heavenly verse. Rest in peace.

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