By PAT WATSON
When God asked the life entity that became known as Maya Angelou why she wanted to go back to Earth, her answer must have been, “So I can experience what it is like to be every woman.”
The life story that Angelou, who returned to the ancestors last week at age 86, never shied away from telling includes having been a sexual assault victim, mute, sex worker, night club dancer, streetcar driver, activist, artist, actress, director, poet, academic, wife, mother and revered elder. Perhaps that is the reason she had to grow to her full height of six feet; there needed to be room to contain all that she meant to fulfill.
It would hardly seem that in those 86 years there was anything left unfinished or unfulfilled. Yet, who knows what a life is truly meant to do, or to be during the course of its existence.
What can be said about the life of Maya Angelou, though, is that she had a good run at covering a great many bases. Because of that, her life had meaning for so many. For me, it resonates with a cover photo of Angelou that appeared on Word magazine many years ago. It is a story that I would have liked to tell her.
Not long before seeing that cover after a period of contemplating a career change, I had made the decision to write. The decision was made in one of those ‘aha moments’, as Angelou mentee Oprah Winfrey has coined it. As is often the case when an individual makes a decision that fits one’s calling, the universe lined up to carry that decision forward. The issue of Word with Angelou on the cover and a piece inside on her also had – perhaps it was on the same page – information about a program being offered by the magazine for people who wanted to develop their skills in print journalism. I followed the application process, got into the program and embarked on a career in journalism and other aspects of writing.
I have not considered what might have happened had Angelou not been on that cover. What matters more is that her image was, and that the significance of her life to so many, including this writer, played a noteworthy part in adding more footsteps along one individual’s path. It is a story told many times, no doubt.
Often quoted from Angelou is the sentiment that people will not remember you so much for what you did in life, but rather how you made them feel. Whatever her foibles may have been, for no human regardless of station in life is without some, her presence resonated with countless others. Her life presented us with a noble bearing, quiet strength and humility. It carried in the timbre of her voice, which was calm yet firm. Her life was so full that it took seven autobiographies to tell it. She left us with words that hold meaning for us imparting strength and uplift for our own survival.
One doesn’t get the impression that she struggled to survive, even as she showed us how vulnerable she was, but that survival was her way of being. Moreover, she flourished.
So, what feeling did she impart? For this writer in particular, the feeling is inspired.
A note on voting day count down…
With just a week left to go before the June 12 Ontario provincial election day, we can already begin to see the Rob Ford threat reemerging with the promise that the scandal plagued 64th mayor of Toronto will return to the municipal campaign trail on July 1, after a highly publicized stint in rehab. Ford will have many months before elections in October to prove he has earned enough public trust to make his way to the front of the line in the mayoral race. But it defies understanding of what is required for a proper recovery from at least four years of substance abuse – as well as the associated disordered mental and behavior patterns – to expect that he would be competent enough to head the council of the fourth largest city in North America. If he is given that chance, then Torontonians will have only themselves to blame. As the saying goes, ‘Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.’
Pat Watson is the author of the e-book, In Through A Coloured Lens. Twitter@patprose