I have everything to celebrate: a dense yet incredible year of teaching, disentangling myself from a lackluster relationship, a week of yoga in Portugal’s central valleys, a short love affair in Valencia, an art-filled weekend at the Venice Biennale, a two-month running streak of daily yoga and meditation, successfully resolving professional conflict through direct communication, the opening of my first solo show in a decade, and the beginning of my MFA in Baltimore this June. This spring, the earth of Cairo has sprung forth vivid colors through tulip and flamboyant trees and bougainvillea varietals of white, red, magenta and yellow hues — an external visual to accompany my high spirits.
Many times over the past months I have scribbled words to publish, about some delicious or unexpected moment, yet nothing made it to the computer keyboard. The urge to write about Maya Angelou today was unstoppable. I found this stunning 2014 article, Why Maya Angelou Disliked Modesty by Dawn Reiss, which includes a synopsis of an interview where Ms Angelou discussed the concepts of modesty and humility.
“Whenever I’m around some who is modest, I think, ‘run like hell and all of fire,’” she said. “You don’t want modesty, you want humility. Humility comes from inside out. It says someone was here before me and I’m here because I’ve been paid for. I have something to do and I will do that because I’m paying for someone else who has yet to come.”
I mourn this loss and rejoice what she has given to people on the margins, to enlivening black culture, to enriching a world for women, articulating the demons of the deep South, meanwhile authentically producing living works of art for us all to learn and know. I treasure her quote above, especially while my plate is heaped with earned success, something that the world doesn’t teach many of us to own, attribute and pay forward through self-recognition and humble awareness.
Today I honor the life of Maya Angelou, a poet, dancer, speaker, and academic who opened my world to the better understand sexual abuse through an assigned 8th grade reading, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”. One cannot underestimate the power of that unanticipated moment where someone else’s story unlocks your own. Not all of life’s beauty sits on the surface, nor does happiness always emerge from a still place within. Maya Angelou’s lesson to me is to own, to share, and to celebrate this place where I stand today.