Dr. Maya Angelou died yesterday.
I had heard of Dr. Angelou when I was younger but I never paid her or her work much attention – I was too busy going through my teenage angst years with enough physical insecurity and loneliness to depress a nation. To me, she was always the woman “they” talked about. The woman others said was really great but I never knew firsthand what made her so. It was last year that I finally felt pulled to study this phenomenal woman.
I was watching a Super Soul Sunday video on the OWN channel and Oprah Winfrey was talking with Dr. Angelou. (Oprah is well-known for counting Dr. Angelou as one of her greatest female inspirations.) As I was watching this video, looking at this older woman sitting in a chair across from Oprah in her long, sparkly, black dress with silvery-gray hair, I was mesmerized.
She radiated LOVE.
That is the only way I can think to describe it. When replying any question Oprah asked, she spoke slowly and assuredly with an evident desire to teach and give from herself, with love, to those listening. Her smile was child-like and beautiful, full of awe and appreciation.
I was transfixed.
I listened intently to everything she said. Every word that came out of her mouth sounded rich and meaningful. When she spoke about God, she mentioned her amazement as to how it was possible that God loved…her. At one point she was recounting a story from her past and she started repeating the words she had been instructed by her then mentor, Frederick Wilkerson, to say: “God loves me. God loves me. God…loves…ME.” The truth of the words moved her so deeply and almost brought her to tears. I was almost in tears watching her. She had a quality that I did not fully understand at the time.
After watching that video, I did further research into her life/work and realized why she was the woman so many people talked about. I realized why she was the woman so many people were inspired by. I realized why Oprah considered her one of her greatest female inspirations. I realized why I had “stumbled” upon her video. She was a woman of gratitude. Yes, she was a well-known author, poet, actress, teacher, and civil rights activist whose works are highly appreciated. But that is not what makes Dr. Angelou so special to me. What makes her so special is that for all that her life was made of (her great accomplishments and her great pain – she was raped at age 7 by a close male figure, she was almost beaten to death and held captive for days by one of her boyfriends in her later years, and more), she was grateful.
She was grateful for her mother’s love and lessons even though her mother wasn’t perfect (FYI, no one is), she was grateful for the opportunities she had to serve others greatly, she was grateful for the sweet experiences she had enjoyed in life that brought her happiness, and she was grateful for the painful experiences in life that brought her life lessons.
She was a woman of gratitude and that is why she enjoyed a rich life. She was a woman of gratitude and that is why she was capable of empathizing with others. She was a woman of gratitude and that is why she was able to love others. She was a woman of gratitude and that is why she had the impact she did on the lives of so many. She was a woman of gratitude and that is why she was a phenomenal woman.
She was a woman of gratitude and that is what I am fighting to be.
If you believe Dr. Angelou’s life mattered, don’t just write “R.I.P Maya Angelou” on Facebook/Twitter. Don’t just say how sad this is and move through your life the same unloving and unfulfilling way you’ve been operating. Don’t just forget the lives of the people God has used to touch you. Acknowledge the lessons in their lives you are meant to learn (including the cautionary tales). Notice the character habits that made their lives as beautiful as they were and start embodying those habits in your life.
When someone physically dies, don’t let them become “dead” to you. Carry the best parts of their spirit with you through your life. That is how you make sure that the beauty of a soul lives on with you.
Thank you Dr. Maya Angelou for teaching me that gratitude is a key ingredient to living a rich and enjoyable life.
May your soul forever rest in peace in the bosom of the Lord.
"Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer."
- Maya Angelou
p.s. I am giving away one copy of Dr. Angelou's book, "Mom & Me & Mom". It is a beautiful memoir about the relationship between Maya and her mother, centered around love, forgiveness, and of course, gratitude. This book was a blessing to me and I hope it serves as a blessing to you. If you would like to have this book, just let me know in the comments section below why you want the book. I will announce the winner next Thursday on Twitter.
*You must reside in the U.S. to participate in this giveaway.*