September 12, 2006
A while back now, I went to see Dr. Maya Angelou. Bean had bought me tickets for my birthday! Huge YAY! As the night kicked off, Maya settled into an extra tall director’s chair, centerstage. The initial clapping had yet to even settle down from her entrance, but my cheeks already hurting from smiling too much. I was bursting with joy to be in the presence of one of my favorite writers. Tears inevitably came, because clapping, whoo-hooing, smiling and laughing just weren’t enough to let the build up of utter delight out. The sea of faces seated behind me appeared to share my sentiment, eager to sit in her presence and soak up what she had to share. Stories. Stories spanning her life from early childhood to present day. One story of several years back, of her last flight ever to be exact, in which the plane was on a steady ascent. About five minutes in, the captain’s door opens and out comes the captain making a beeline for Maya. He begins to gush about how he’d seen her name listed on the flight manifold and how he just had to come back to meet her. Her response was something to the affect of “Don’t you have more important things to be doing right now?! I assure you, sir, I’ll still be here later on.” She took to traveling by bus after that in hopes of being less of a distraction in the daily workings of life. The woman exudes wisdom, commands strength, and frankly, is adorable.
In the meantime, I was content to be in the same room with her.
She happened to be speaking at the Paramount in Seattle. That means, for a fairly short wait outside off to the side of the building, you can stick around and often times meet whom ever your heart desires. Bean and Jess have done that quite a bit, stacking up an array of meet and greets with a bevy of bands. There is no secluded nearby area to park tour buses in, as there are with other theatres around town, so inevitably the performers must face their fans to some degree in crossing the street to where their ride is waiting. To accompany the tickets, Bean bought me a gorgeous hardback book- a collection of Maya’s writings, perfect for an autograph. Armed with a new Sharpie, we were set to wait outside afterwards, in hopes of catching a brief moment with Maya. As we sat anticipating her before the curtain was even drawn, I had a change of heart, though. Got to thinking about the droves of people she must meet and all of a sudden it wasn’t enough to simply have a nameless brief encounter. No. Didn’t want to be another duty she must attend to, as one does with celebrity status. If I’d encountered her naturally in everyday life, and the right moment presented itself where I could be a bright spot in her day, giving, rather than taking, than wonderful. Happy, I’d be. In the meantime, I was content to be in the same room with her.
Maya’s running message throughout her stories and poetry shared that night was “Be a rainbow in someone else’s clouds.” Though a bit cliche in metaphor, the meaning rang true. Get outside of yourself long enough to see what you can offer to someone else each day, everyday. Long ago, I got over expecting others to seek me out first, to call, or say “hi,” to reach out. A tough lesson it was, in penetrating my sometimes thick skull, for, it’s certainly lovely when people do reach out first, it offers assurance that one is wanted. The benefit from the lesson learned, lies in now deriving much pleasure from being the one to offer that assurance of being wanted to others.
My favorite part of the night was hearing Maya state her life’s progression: At 16-17 years of age, an unwed, uneducated, pregnant, black girl. For many years now, a successful, highly educated, world renowned author, speaker and teacher. The juxtaposition of the two roles, both lived by the same person, offers such hope for overcoming, for redemption, for possibility.
In reflecting back on that night, I’m glad for the reminder to spread some color, be that rainbow, and to remember the possibilities in the face of the seemingly impossible, as I push forward into a new chapter in life, difficult territory.