NOTE: I just learned the sad news of Maya Angelou's passing. This is a reprint of earlier musings and includes a somewhat intimate observation of a woman whose life and grace is worth reflecting upon again. May the legacy of her spirit inspire you today.
How do you view others in -- and outside -- of your personal orbit?
I rarely watch TV, but found myself ensconced in a dark and quiet house this morning as the thundering rainstorm pelted against our windows. A small pot of coffee, a re-heated biscuit from Kentucky Fried Chicken slathered with too much butter (yes, I'm outed) and the tiny terrier I'm sitting for the past few days provided ample excuse for tuning in to weekday TV viewing.
I found myself drawn to Oprah's program entitled, 'Master Class.' I wanted to watch -- and closely -- Maya Angelou's personal telling of her life story.
Have you ever listened to Maya Angelou, read her poetry or had opportunity to watch her speak from the nation's Capitol as part of Bill Clinton's Presidential inauguration?
Maya Angelou's name was frequently bandied about during the early '90s. I remember how certain members of the Republican party demonized her for her public affiliation with evil-minded Democrats. (Don't get any ideas about my political leanings; I'm an equal opportunity offender.)
A few years later, I read a book penned by a man who made his mark polarizing an evangelical Christian readership against, among others, the woman who authored I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. He discredited Maya for possessing no formal education, for carrying a phony professorship and for rarely appearing at her faculty office on campus.
Seeing Maya's face on TV today also brought me back to an evening six years ago when I had opportunity to witness her up close and in the flesh.
I'd been on a girls' trip (two mothers, two daughters) to southern California where, on a whim, we'd decided to dine at one of Beverly Hills' top restaurants. We thought we might get to eyeball a Hollywood celeb or two and headed to dinner at Spago's.
Having no reservations, we ended up with a table erected in makeshift fashion. It was set somewhere between the entrance lobby and the famed restaurant's dining rooms.
I was told that Red Buttons, someone you'd have to be well past 50 to remember, had apparently just exited the restaurant.
However, the unexpected luminary who caught my eye that night -- and whose presence I've never since forgotten -- was that of Maya Angelou. Had I not been situated at that oddly-placed table, I might have missed an opportunity to observe her at close range.
Apparently invited as a guest of honor, Maya was attired in a modestly conservative white wool suit and simple gold earrings. She arrived rather early to await her intended hosts.
Not only did she appear gracious to staff members working in the restaurant's lobby, she was pleasant and kind to everyone else. I noted a peaceful and generous aura surrounding this woman who would have been recognized as a "somebody" even without her prolific publications or the national headlines she'd attained.
The warmth of Maya's countenance took in everyone within Spago's orbit. She smiled directly at waitstaff, responded personally to anyone who approached her, waited patiently for her party and eventually sat quietly by candlelight at an intimate table of four.
I could have joined the oglers and asked her for a photograph. But such was neither warranted nor necessary. I found it far more enjoyable to observe Maya Angelou from my unique vantage point instead.
Here was a woman who had experienced a long and varied life journey. She'd been counted among the "bottom feeders" of society for far more reasons than the color of her skin. Yet she'd attained a position among the cultural, social and political elite and was now sufficiently possessed to carry herself as representative for all.
Maya carried no brazen attitude, no hint of arrogance, no air of entitlement.
Having learned from her time among the seemingly lower ranks of society , she was now demonstrating publicly how to comport oneself while at the top.
What about you?
You might be Black or white. Rich or poor. Part of the religious right or the liberal left.
Regardless of your labeling, do you occasionally "see" through tags and find treasure in your fellow man?
Do you value those who are different or otherwise invisible in your personal world?
Somehow, Maya Angelou has managed to see and embrace all who exist around her. And she does it quite well.
At 80 years of age, her sorrows of heart have sweetened her savor.
Oprah's Master Class with Maya Angelou was worth watching. This elder woman demonstrated how properly incorporating a host of challenging life lessons can transform us into a larger, even dignified, communal blessing.
Wherever you are along the path of your Life Class today, here's wishing you that same kind of mastery, too!