It's likely we'll never see anyone quite like Maya Angelou again, anytime soon.
Her death, on May 28th, jarred me as it did a nation continuously moved by her music, her acting, her moxie, her perseverance, her steadfast fight for civil rights and her pure love for the spoken and written word.
Though every death is expected, I honestly didn't expect hers. She was a treasure in every sense of the word and treasure, the real kind, is supposed to last forever. Word of her passing at 86 reminded me that she was human after all and that the stuff that keeps us going eventually breaks down, as if to say, "Enough; Rest now."
But her passing also reminded me of legacy. What we leave behind is of extraordinary importance and Angelou left an entire library of work, all a product of her soul. And as I thought about it, it occurred to me that that is one of the things missing in today's dizzying world. Substance.
Google can deliver to us an infinity of information but all of it lacks soul. The mountain of information is there for us to look at and seep through but how valuable is it really if we haven't experienced any of it, tasted it, fought with it, looked it straight in the eye and tried to understand it, smelled it. Antiseptic piles of information, easily discarded, cheap and readily available with the click of a wrist. Stray lyrics without the accompaniment.
You don't have to be a Maya Angelou to leave behind a legacy. All you have to do is breathe. Every one of us has a responsibility to the person next to us to contribute something. Angelou's dear friend Oprah Winfrey often asks the people she interviews what the purpose of life is, and everyone strives to answer that question with something cosmic. My answer would be simple -- to help the person next to you and then the person next to them, and so on. We're all living on a huge round rock that's traveling 60,000 or so miles an hour around a ball of fire and if we're not here to help the next guy through that wild ride, what the hell are we here for?
Angelou's talents left behind a trove of writings and inspiration for generations to come. This assuredly was a gift but don't be fooled -- having a gift requires a tremendous amount of work and fortitude to make sure the "gift" is used to its fullest extent; it's a calling and callings demand discipline with no room for self-indulgence. Every single person living on this planet has a gift... but only a few choose to take on the challenge to fully pass it on.
I imagine having a gift is exhausting, almost unbearable. Wouldn't it just be easier to ignore the calling, push it away so we don't carry the responsibility of sharing it? Yes, of course. But the soul, unlike the mountain of junk we have to wade through to get past just one query on Google, will demand something deeper, if we can only stop and listen to what it's saying.
Maya Angelou didn't speak for years as a child after an unspeakable violation of her body and soul robbed her of that time. But her soul was way too powerful, so she chose to listen and took up the challenge of helping humanity through the ride of life.