Maya Angelou on living a meaningful life, having ideals and the courage to be oneself

Maya Angelou, Letter to my Daughter

Published 2008 by Random House, 166p

 

Maya Angelou addresses all daughters she had never had but whom she considers her extended family:

I gave birth to one child, a son, but I have thousands of daughters. You are Black and White, Jewish and Muslim, Asia, Spanish-speaking, Native American and Aleut. You are fat and thin and pretty and plain, gay and straight, educated and unlettered, and I am speaking to you all.

The volume, written in a simplistic, honest and amusing style, includes 28 essays, useful life lessons on family, friends, the importance of truth, persistence, national spirit, faith, older lovers and philanthropy.

I think it is beautiful and emotional to see someone growing old with wisdom and no regrets. It is a sign of wit to grow up laughing, apologizing when wrong and changing perspective when necessary.  It is inspiring to meet writers like Angelou who had the courage to depict reality honestly and assume her mistakes.

I have made many mistakes and no doubt will make more before I die. When I have seen pain, when I have found that my ineptness has caused displeasure, I have learned to accept my responsibility and to forgive myself first, then to apologize to anyone injured by my misreckoning.

Raised in a prejudicial culture by her parental grandmother and later by her mother, Maya Angelou had to prove every day that she was not inferior. Using all resources she fought violence against women, injustice and prejudices. She found strength in her family and in the friends that had thought her valuable lessons. She was raped as a child, cruelly beaten by a boyfriend, became a single mother and experienced many difficult moments in her life. But every time she reinvented herself. Angelou was a singer, dancer, prostitute, poet, teacher and activist.

Never whine. Whining lets a brute know that a victim is in the neighborhood.

Her passion for life and curiosity led the way. Choosing honesty and depreciating vulgarity, Angelou gathered infinite moments to remember and share. Some of them were painful, some embarrassing and other real treasures but all of them were valuable lessons.

During a visit in Senegal Angelou was invited to dinner in a friend’s house. She was intrigued that people avoided stepping on the carpet so she decided to find out why. Pretending to look at the paintings on the wall she stepped on the rug several times to shortly find out that it was the tablecloth and they were about to have dinner sitting on the floor.

I sat, but I found swallowing hard to do. The food had to force its way over that knot of embarrassment. In an unfamiliar culture, it is wise to offer no innovations, no suggestions, or lessons. The epitome of sophistication is utter simplicity.

Angelou never exaggerates or brags and easily becomes an entertainer. I like her voices, both real and narrative.

 I wish we could stop the little lies. I don’t mean that one has to be brutally frank. I don’t believe that we should be brutal about anything, however, it is wonderfully liberating to be honest. One does not have to tell all that one knows, but we should be careful what we do say is the truth.

 

Complement Letter to my daughter with Mom & Me & Mom, the last book in the series of Maya Angelou’s autobiographies, an honest writing about the connections between a mother and a daughter.

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