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Remembering Maya: 10 Things She Taught Me

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If you had a deep conversation with me anytime from the age thirteen ’til  now, more than likely I made some reference to Miss Angelou (proven in a few of my blog posts). Whether it was a direct quote or simply a life lesson that she blessed me with, Maya Angelou was like that mother, grandmother, aunt, lady at the hair salon who lived life and lived it well — passing on a handful of life lessons along the way.

I heard of her passing this morning and I was simply at a loss for words. It honestly seems cliche and sometimes insincere to grieve for someone you don’t know, but the thing about this particular woman was that I felt as though I did know her and not just in some passing sort of way. Last night, when the possibility of her passing didn’t even occur to me, I sat in a book store trying to find a book and ended up stumbling across Angelou’s greatest works. For a couple of minutes I went down memory lane as I rummaged through her books. It was like going through old photos with a friend, sharing laughs and giggles and I-can’t-believe-you-did-thats. That’s the affection I had for her words.

So out of respect for her legacy and her influence on my personal life, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite quotes. There are quite of few of these lists going around today as we appreciate her life and I believe that’s simply testament to the impact she made with words. These aren’t all the typical phenomenal woman quotes but rather ones that have remained with me through the test of time.

  1. “You are the sum total of everything you’ve ever seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot – it’s all there. Everything influences each of us, and because of that I try to make sure that my experiences are positive.”

  2. “I can be changed by what happens to me. but I refuse to be reduced by it.”

  3. “If you have only one smile in you give it to the people you love.”

  4. “I don’t know if I continue, even today, always liking myself. But what I learned to do many years ago was to forgive myself. It is very important for every human being to forgive herself or himself because if you live, you will make mistakes- it is inevitable. But once you do and you see the mistake, then you forgive yourself and say, ‘well, if I’d known better I’d have done better,’ that’s all. So you say to people who you think you may have injured, ‘I’m sorry,’ and then you say to yourself, ‘I’m sorry.’ If we all hold on to the mistake, we can’t see our own glory in the mirror because we have the mistake between our faces and the mirror; we can’t see what we’re capable of being. You can ask forgiveness of others, but in the end the real forgiveness is in one’s own self. I think that young men and women are so caught by the way they see themselves. Now mind you. When a larger society sees them as unattractive, as threats, as too black or too white or too poor or too fat or too thin or too sexual or too asexual, that’s rough. But you can overcome that. The real difficulty is to overcome how you think about yourself. If we don’t have that we never grow, we never learn, and sure as hell we should never teach.”

  5. “Each of us has that right, that possibility, to invent ourselves daily. If a person does not invent herself, she will be invented. So, to be bodacious enough to invent ourselves is wise.”

  6. “Have enough courage to trust love one more time and always one more time.”

  7. “My great hope is to laugh as much as I cry; to get my work done and try to love somebody and have the courage to accept the love in return.”

  8. “I got my own back.”

  9. “I’ve learned that making a ‘living’ is not the same thing as making a ‘life’.”

  10. “I could fall in love with a sumo wrestler if he told stories and made me laugh. Obviously, it would be easier if someone was African-American and lived next door and went to the same church. Because then I wouldn’t have to translate.”

Even as I compiled this list of lines I’ve heard and remembered time and time again, I’m still in awe of her wisdom.

Rest in perfect peace, rest in power, Miss Maya.