May 28, 2014

“Grateful for Life.” The Voice of Maya Angelou.

I rise Maya Angelou graffiti mural

Many, many years ago I read “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” the first of several memoirs by the acclaimed writer, poet and novelist Maya Angelou, and I knew I had to do something.

What, I wasn’t yet sure. But this is the thing about Maya Angelou: she inspired.

Her death today at 86 years old marks the passing of one of the greatest voices of our time. She was the muse for Oprah Winfrey. She spoke at President Clinton’s inauguration, the first poet to do so since Robert Frost. She was a mighty, mighty woman.

She made it clear that our life is our responsibility. “A wise woman,” she once wrote “Refuses to be a victim.”

You can cry, and whine and blame others, but at the end of the day you are going to be right where you started. The only way out is to walk, one step at a time.

Angelou was named Marguerite at birth, but given the name “Maya” when a sibling said, “My-a sister.” It stuck. In so many ways, she was “My-a” muse too.

Her voice falls on a new generation. There are many today who advocate lying on a bathroom floor, crying into their sorrows. Maya Angelou was not that voice.

Angelou had a difficult life. She was raped. She had a bad marriage. She suffered from racism. But you never heard her complain. She would sooner cut off her arm than glorify unhappiness. In fact, she thought life was beautiful.

“I am grateful for life,” she said.

She taught us to take the good with the bad, because it is all life. “If you don’t like something,” she once said, “Change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”

Inspired by her, and by other black and southern writers including Toni Morrison and Eudora Welty, I took off for Birmingham Alabama in 1984. I was determined to be part of it, whatever “it” was. I had more gumption than sense, but it didn’t matter much. I also had the time of my life as a journalist in the American South.

Angelou made it clear that it is our responsibility to live our best lives, not just for us, but for others. Every generation deserves the promise of more. As a journalist, I found the stories I thought would make a difference. I did my part to make the world a better place.

courage maya angelou

“There is no greater agony, than bearing an untold story,” she wrote. And so, inspired, this bird sung.

Thank you, Maya Angelou, for your voice. You made a difference. You are “My-a” muse, as you belong not just to your family but to the world at large. I hope your words lead this new generation of young people to get up, stand up and live their best lives.

“I’m grateful for life,” she said. “And I live it. I believe life loves the liver of it.” And you did it well.

Love elephant and want to go steady?

Sign up for our (curated) daily and weekly newsletters!

Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photos: Eric E Castro/Flickr, Derek Bridges/Flickr


You must be logged in to post a comment. Create an account.

Nancy May 30, 2014 5:40am

It's weird, I just thought about her the day before she passed, thinking how great she was and how talented and how lucky the world was to have her. Even though she was 86, I was still surprised by her death. She seemed so vibrant even at her age…..

muse_sharon May 29, 2014 11:43pm

A loving tribute Michelle! Can you believe we shared this time in our world with her? With Nelson Mandela? I saw her in 2004 when she returned to her hometown of Saint Louis. She was absolutely riveting figure, eloquence and elegance personified. Caged no more… Rest in peace

laurakutney May 29, 2014 1:20am

A beautifully written piece. Thank you for your lovely words! xo, Laura

Read Elephant’s Best Articles of the Week here.
Readers voted with your hearts, comments, views, and shares:
Click here to see which Writers & Issues Won.

Michelle Marchildon

Michelle Berman Marchildon is the Yogi Muse. She’s an award-winning journalist, and the author of Finding More on the Mat: How I Grew Better, Wiser and Stronger through Yoga. Her second book, Theme Weaver: Connect the Power of Inspiration to Teaching Yoga, is for yoga teachers who want to inspire their students. Michelle is a columnist for elephant journal and Origin Magazine and a contributor to Teachasana, My Yoga Online and Yoga Journal. She is an E-RYT 500 with Yoga Alliance and teaches in Denver, Co where she is busy raising two boys, two dogs and one husband. You can follow her on Facebook at Michelle Marchildon, The Yogi Muse. You can find her blog and website at www.YogiMuse.com. And you can take her classes on www.yogadownload.com.