In Memoriam

In honor of Maya Angelou’s would-have-been 90th birthday, Google posted this doodle yesterday.  It takes me back…

In 1993 at the Clinton inauguration, Maya Angelou performed her poem, “On the Pulse of Morning,” her enduring message of inclusion, of the strength of all of us united, granite.  Her words: “History, despite its wrenching pain,/ Cannot be unlived but if faced/ With courage need not be lived again,” became planted in me and the rock on which I based my teaching career.  We could bask in the light of “this bright morning dawning…”

An excerpt in our seventh grade Daybook from I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the beginnings of Marguerite (Maya) Angelou’s story, reintroduces me to her and her roots, the young girl who had lived with her Grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas.  Published first in 1969, a wizened copy of the memoir lies tucked away on the bookshelf  I had inherited from my predecessor.  When my students ask if they could read “the whole book,” I say that I’ll join them, so our relationship develops.

Sitting in that class among those avid readers is one young man who absorbs every single moment we’re together, never misses anything, holds me to my promise to be the best I can be every day.  Just before Christmas that year, he handed me a wrapped package, clearly a book—a shared passion.  I opened it to find a copy of Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings…autographed.  The story of the lengths his mom Maria went to obtain this precious gift is for another day but speaks to who she is as a person, and as a friend.  In the recent movie Ladybird, a minor character says that the measure of love is paying attention.  This is Maria’s default setting.




I learn that Maya Angelou will be visiting the local community college when Maria tells me that she’s gotten us, her son, now a high school freshman, her and me, tickets, and when I arrive, she has gained seats right up front within seven rows of the stool on which the great lady will perch because she cannot manage to stand.  At 80, Angelou begins by telling the packed gym—there are over 3,000 of us— that “My knees are bad, well I have one real bad knee, but the good knee is sympathetic to the bad one.”  During the course of her conversation with us, this gentle humored, open-hearted, intelligent woman wraps us in her magic, her storytelling, using song and spirit.  She holds us all, and I am most clearly aware of this when I prepare to leave the parking area.

New Jersey drivers are not known for their patience.  An oft-told joke is the response to, “Do you know what the state bird of New Jersey is?” with the answer being that middle-finger gesture.  On that night though, with every space filled, and all exits bumper-to-bumper, lights shine, horns still, and in a seemingly orchestrated procession, we find our way off campus…no birds in sight.  It is the Angelou Effect.

When I see yesterday’s Google Doodle, the wonder washes over me anew.  I text Maria, “Watch the Google Doodle today,” and her reply?   “You beat me to it!”

The Angelou Effect.



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