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Maya Angelou Chooses Joy

Maya Angelou Chooses Joy

While many people may define Maya Angelou, PhD, by her literary skill, humanitarianism and an extraordinary list of achievements, this author, poet, professor, mother and humanitarian is a straight-talker whose powerful words inspire people the world over.

“Love heals. Heals and liberates” writes Dr. Maya Angelou in her most recent book, Mom and Me and Mom. “This book has been written to examine some of the ways love heals and helps a person to climb impossible heights and rise from immeasurable depths.”

Angelou has certainly seen plenty of both during her lifetime. But from her experience with physical and emotional pain she offers a healthy, healing perspective. Angelou writes in Mom, “The ship of my life might or might not be sailing on calm seas. The challenging days of my existence might or might not be bright and promising. … Whether my days are stormy or sunny and if my nights are glorious or lonely, I maintain an attitude of gratitude. If pessimism insists on occupying my thoughts, I remember there is always tomorrow. Today I am blessed.”

Angelou has always been matter-of-fact about the pain and challenges in her life, stressing her unwavering conviction in the healing power of love and the importance of personal choice.

This year, Angelou celebrated her 85th birthday and doesn’t let age or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) slow her down. Of aging she recommends, “Do it, if you can!” People who live with pain may identify with her need for occasional assistance and the struggle to deal with those who might not understand, but Angelou’s strong spirit helps her keep things in perspective.

“Each of us can make choices; we’re not blown around willy-nilly,” says Angelou. “I will always choose joy. And I don’t want to drag someone else around when they’ve been rude or hurtful. When someone ill-treats me, I think, ‘Well, you are silly.’ I choose to forgive others for myself.”

SPEAKing of Singing, Writing & Choices

Angelou has been in the spotlight since 1954, when she first toured Europe with a production of the opera Porgy and Bess. In subsequent decades, her adventures included performing as a dancer on television variety shows, recording an album and living in Egypt and Ghana. While in Ghana, Angelou met Malcolm X and returned to America to help him build the Organization of African American Unity.

Following X’s assassination, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. asked Angelou to work for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. After King was assassinated in 1968, Angelou began work on what is widely considered her most iconic literary work, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the first of 30 bestselling titles.

“I was mute from the ages of 7 to 13,” Angelou says, recalling a time when she chose silence as a way to cope with the pain of abuse. “But my paternal grandmother said to me,‘Mama don’t care. You are going to be a teacher.’ And now I teach in a number of languages and I’ve taught all over the world.”

Not only does Professor Angelou teach, she uses her voice to engage a multigenerational audience via books, poetry and social media. Through her website, Twitter and Facebook, she offers wise words that comfort, inspire and promote understanding. Angelou reminds readers that words are powerful and living. “Words are things,” she says — and she uses them carefully. In Caged Bird she writes,“Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with shades of deeper meaning.”

People living with or caring for someone in physical or emotional pain may find a deep, restorative connection to Angelou’s printed and online words. When feeling alone, overlooked or misunderstood, doses of her healing words offer hope and can help shift perspective. “This is a wonderful day; I’ve never seen this one before,” Angelou reminds readers through a Facebook post.

Angelou’s personal appearances are equally powerful. This spring at a book signing for Mom & Me &Mom, she reminded the audience that we are all part of the human race and share the same range of emotions, even if our circumstances are different. Radiating a strong, gentle presence, Angelou adjusted her oxygen and proclaimed, “I came here with something to say, and I plan on saying it.” Her spirit of joy was palpable.

The Power of Writing on Yellow (for 50 years)

For example, Angelou tells of a time of darkness in her life that became an opportunity to find the light of writing and gratitude. “When I was a young, single mother, I left my son to join a production of Porgy and Bess,” Angelou recalls. Months later, when she returned home to her son, she experienced a profound and sudden depression, overwhelmed by the urge to take her son and jump out of a window. She says she immediately sought help at a nearby psychiatric clinic and was attended to by a young white practitioner.

“I remember thinking, how could this young man comprehend a black woman raising a young black man in a racist society?” she says. “So I went to my voice teacher and said, ‘I’m going crazy.’ He told me to take a yellow pad and write down my blessings, to write that I could see, hear, write. That happened 50 years ago, and I am still overwhelmed by the blessings I have. When I finished that first page, I also finished feeling sorry for myself. I have written 30 books on yellow pads.”

Physical Surprises & Building Courage

Of her life, Angelou says, “I have not been spared pain, and my body continues to offer me physical surprises. The saying ‘growing old is not for sissies’ is true. But you don’t inherit courage. You have to develop it in small ways, and I start with ‘I can bear this.’”

“People can lose their sense of value in what they already have,” she continues.“When you smile at a person, you have no idea what effect that might have — a person may have just been told that something has been found on their X-rays.”

When asked about her own greatest blessings, Angelou says that the first is her son and the next is her ability to embrace people as “my children.”Laughing, she says she often “steals” daughters everywhere she goes because she never had one of her own. Viewers who saw Angelou on Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul Sunday program know that Oprah has become one of her favourites.

Love & Learning

What offers comfort to an icon like Maya Angelou? “Love is all things, God is love and therefore, God is all,” she states. “Faith comes willingly when you see what you have already achieved. I have faith that I will do the best I can do. And charity is giving. Everybody always has something to give.”After all she has accomplished, Angelou is still exploring new challenges. “I want to learn more, know more, be more,” she says. “I want to be representative of my race, the human race. I want to be a better writer,” Angelou concludes. “My poetry is used by women and helps women to liberate themselves, and I want that to continue. Everyone needs some healing.”{PP}

PainPathways Magazine

PainPathways Magazine

PainPathways is the first, only and ultimate pain magazine. First published in spring 2008, PainPathways is the culmination of the vision of Richard L. Rauck, MD, to provide a shared resource for people living with and caring for others in pain. This quarterly resource not only provides in-depth information on current treatments, therapies and research studies but also connects people who live with pain, both personally and professionally.

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