Before my experience with Nayyirah Waheed or Warsan Shire and Rupi Kaur, I had a powerful experience with Maya Angelou. Her poem, ‘Still I Rise’ was the first poem that kept me alive. Although she wrote it with slavery and oppression in mind, it found its personal perspective for me by cutting to my core during a time when I felt victimised, tortured and humiliated by my relationship. I read the sassy words over and over, like a daily routine, regaining confidence, respect, and assurance that whatever the current circumstance, it would not define another moment. I also clung to it with a small tattoo on my left forearm. It was a reminder to always feel good about who I am. A feeling I had lost, bound by his thoughts of me. But “Still I Rise” made it seem necessary to encounter the defeat. I had to see my own strength, and the sacredness of building the courage to stand up when I felt I had been brought down in front of the world.
This is what I love about Maya Angelou. Her writing will empower you, make you feel whole, capable, unstoppable. She found a clever and courageous way to cover themes of navigating and embracing feminine identity. As women we have become part of a system that has made it ten times harder for us to forgive ourselves, start again or just simply go on with our lives. We’re conditioned to shy away from the parts of us which make us whole, that it’s forced us to act as if we should always have something to hide or never have any skeletons in our closet. While we suppress ourselves, we dim our lights. As much as possible we have to learn to avoid this. Be too much if that’s what we are. Its more likely that its the worlds expectations of us that are too small. Unfold and expand each part of you by looking for moments to give more of yourself to the world. That’s what Maya Angelou did.
When I read about her experience of rape as a child in her first autobiography, “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings”, I thought it was an example of how brave I ought to be. She wasn’t afraid to express how she feared the impact of her own voice. She was painfully honest. A type of honesty that encourages us to accept our own vulnerable humanity. I’m not as painfully honest. I have stories that I’m afraid to tell and even when I feel ready to tell them, I may not be able to tell it all. But here’s a quote that reminds me that I should always put pen to paper,
There is no agony
like bearing an untold story inside of you.
— Maya Angelou
Talk about it, write about it, release it.
Another thing that is fascinating about Maya Angelou is that she was never afraid to take a chance at love.
Have enough courage to trust love one more time, and always one more time.
— Maya Angelou
Always one more time. It was her way of showing up in the world. Taking another chance at love. Her poetry, books and articles on her impact, show her courageous zest for love. And yes, love from a partner but her work actually highlights her quest for self-love. She reminds us that we have nothing to prove. Who we are alone, is enough. It has nothing to do with what the world might say. Our success lies in liking who we are, what we do and how we do it.
The beauty and power in her message was taken from the faith in God her grandmother imparted to her. That faith made her a courageous child of God.
“I believed that there was a God because I was told it by my grandmother and later by other adults. But when I found that I knew not only that there was God but that I was a child of God, when I understood that, when I comprehended that, more than that, when I internalised that, ingested that, I became courageous.”
— Maya Angelou
And finally the lesson to live by that her grandmother shared with her,
‘When you learn, teach. When you get, give.’
She taught us all to be phenomenal women.
“From the reach of our arms, to the span of our hips, the stride of our steps, the curl of our lips. We are women, phenomenally.”
It’s like she saw us building ourselves and wrote poetry that would speak to how comfortable each of us should be in our right. How our beauty should occupy the spaces inside of us. How we must each find our own voice, decide our own value, and then announce it with pride. Thats where our secrets lie.