Sunday, April 6, 2008

a living saint

as the memory of MLK pushes onward with the anniversary of 40 years since his assassination (apr 4, 1968), the 80th birthday of maya angelou is celebrated.  along with toni morrison, i think she is the most accomplished african american writer in recent history.  this morning, while cleaning a cabinet in the laundry room, i heard a beautiful, deeply moving interview with maya on NPR.  during this interview, she quoted the poetry of dunbar and st vincent millay, and even some of her own.  she sang a gospel song that resonated with the rich tenor of her voice.  she recollected her life as a dancer, singer, mother, activist and writer.  she recalled her great-grandmother as a slave, bringing a distant and tragic part of our history into the present. 

the interviewer inquired about her perspective on race relations and the current presidential campaign (including a woman and a black man), stating that many young people today don't feel like things are any better since MLK's death.  maya said the deaths of MLK, the kennedys, malcolm x and gandhi have all changed the world and that the world is a better place because these people lived and worked for justice.  ms angelou finished the interview with a proclamation of her faith and she claimed that, as a christian, she (at 80) is committed to live life to the fullest, to god's glory.

she is my very favorite author.  i first read her autobiographical work "i know why the caged bird sings"  during my last year at university.  it changed me forever and i went on to read everything she's written.  when i was a graduate student at wake forest university i had the privilege of hearing her read her inaugural poem "on the pulse of the morning."  she has a presence like no one i've ever seen or heard.  one day on campus i saw her at a distance (she is on  faculty at wake).  i ran to meet her and she greeted me so warmly.  i thanked her for her work and told her how much she had influenced me.  she told me that she hoped she made me laugh a lot too.

issues of race weigh heavy on me.  we live in a poor african american neighborhood and everyday we see great racial and socio-economic divides, and forms of segregation that are alive and well.  i recognize my own privilege and live with an uncertainty of how to redeem it.  i have been more discouraged than i have been hopeful about change and racial reconciliation.  hearing the testimony of this wise and experienced hero of mine brought me to tears and broke something in me that was waning.  her words, echoing back from an 80 year-old's vantage point, pulled me up and set my sights on a higher, lighter plane.

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