It’s been a very interesting day for me. In a summer of more quiet time than usual after a busy admissions season, I took a break from one of my projects to check Facebook. After scrolling through the posts, I was stunned to learn that a childhood writing idol of mine had passed away. Maya Angelou, a woman of inspiration, a woman of passion and incredible talent was suddenly gone, and though I knew her to have lived a long and full life, her death tugged at something deep and troubled within me.
I felt incredibly uncomfortable, and initially I had trouble pinpointing what was bothering me, aside from the loss of this great writer of our world and time. What about Maya Angelou’s death had turned me inside out?
The gloominess of the morning, with a grey sky and occasional cold sprinkles of rain had me feeling less than in a jovial summery spirit. Here in this building that is almost twenty years from being 200, I have felt poked and prodded by the past. My 29th year on this earth and I have wondered about what I have truly offered this earth, other than being kind and paying my taxes: what have I done to make a difference?
Looking at Maya’s numerous accomplishments and lifetime achievements in writing, civil rights and empowering women, I feel discouraged to have wasted so much time being afraid to actively pursue my writing career. I have spent the last year worrying about my ever-ticking biological clock and wondered if I’ll be able to be a mother, longing when I see new posts of babies, engagements and marriages, new pregnancies and births, if I will soon be able to experience that miracle of giving life to a tiny being that will hopefully be able to live a full life and carry a bit of me on with them. Will the love I have for my significant other turn into marriage as I have longed for my whole life?
In this obsessive worry about marriage and procreation that is often natural to occur in the late twenties for women, I realized I unintentionally neglected one of my deepest passions and desires that I held tight to me as I might a precious jewel for so much of my childhood. I somehow put down that jewel for worries and fears. And I cannot understand how I let so much time go by where I had forgotten about my little jewel, my little jewel with an incredible shine.
My stars, I thought, why am I allowing myself to waste my gift, to wallow in sadness and worry because of circumstances in the world that I cannot control? Nothing is certain, and clinging to life (just barely) from day to day, living in a stupor of an overload of social media exposure to friends’ lives that I shouldn’t be comparing my own to, and broken expectations of what I’ve wanted in terms of marriage and children that just don’t make sense in an increasingly more selfish world where individuals kill people en-masse because they can’t get what they want.
Life can be taken away in a moment. How can I possibly continue to be so fearful and frustrated?
The truth is, I cannot. Last night, in a moment where I questioned why a spiritual healing practice worked, I was reminded of my Reiki teacher’s lesson: We cannot control the Universal Energy, or Love, or whatever you want to call Reiki; we can receive it, and give it, but it is not us that is in control of it. In that moment where I realized that, the energy started to flow from my hands and my friend, an older woman who is a recovering cancer patient, relaxed and told me how good the energy felt. What does this moment have to do with Maya Angelou and my desire to recover that gem I misplaced/dropped so long ago?
It is this: Though I hesitate to call myself a religious person, because organized religion has been something I haven’t been able to embrace over the years, (I’ve come to terms with that,) but the idea of spirituality and faith in the process of life, and the power of humans to impact others in numerous ways, whether it be in medicine, or holistic healing, meditation, exercise, or even the art of the spoken and written word, these are things I can have faith in. I have faith in these things because I have seen they can make an improvement in the lives of living, breathing, human beings. And as cheesy as it might sound, having faith in oneself is probably the biggest component of all of these wonderful things. If we are unable to have faith in ourselves, we cannot accomplish our dreams, because if you do not have faith, how is it even possible to have a dream?
Something happened the day I graduated from college. After all the ceremonies and the pomp and circumstance had passed, I entered a dark phase at the age twenty-two. I remember being in a numb state the entire drive home from my Alma mater. I felt empty, as if my purpose had just been stripped from me without my permission. I had given an empowering commencement speech, but somehow in fear of having no direction or set path, I dropped that gem, that purpose (I think unknowingly) and in turn, I lost the faith I had in my abilities and my dream.
I don’t know if there were events that lead up to that moment, and I don’t think I was mature enough to realize what happened at the time, or perhaps I was simply too afraid to face acknowledging what I had let go of, but I lived the next seven years in a purgatory of unimaginable proportions. The craziest part was I built that awful place myself and had no idea why, or how to escape it. I had dropped that gem so deeply inside myself that every time I thought about it, it was painful, and I kept patching and patching and patching that hole, in hopes of forgetting I had not been successful, that things had not worked out. And yet, how could I close up hopes so quickly? In all realness, despite years of writing and the creation of hundreds of poems and a handful of novels, I honestly had not even started. I was still at the beginning when I gave up.
I realize now that it might have been necessary to go on this seven-year journey. There were so many dark spots even before that moment after commencement, and I had honestly lost a lot of faith in what was possible because of outside factors, normal coming of age moments and the dissolution of friendships that I didn’t initially know how to let go of. I was growing and evolving, maturing and changing. I needed to walk that painful path to understand how valuable this gift was that I had let go of so halfheartedly, even selfishly, you could say.
Today, in that first hour when I had learned of her death, I listened to Maya Angelou read her poem, “Phenomenal Woman,” and took in the message that I loved from the first time I read the poem, to accept the woman I am and to love myself confidently. I realized throughout the day, as the significance of her death weighed heavily upon me, that I could not waste any more time. My body is not immortal, and my days are not promised. Living in fear can only take time away from that which you desire to pursue.
I found that as late as it may have taken me to absorb this lesson, learning of her death and the brevity of the time we have here on this planet means we have to make EVERY effort of fulfilling those dreams we have, even if we do fail.
Maya Angelou has said:
“While one may encounter many defeats, one must not be defeated.”
She also said
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
and most importantly in regards to any passion:
“Nothing will work unless you do.”
And so my friends, I know it is necessary to start this important work. I have to make up for this time that I have let slip by due to fears, failures and dark points where I heard nothing but the words “impossible,” “should,” and “never.” My hope is that I may let go of these words, rub them out of my vocabulary as well as my worries, so I can finally focus on my dream.
There is a familiar-looking gem sparkling from underneath the grass on this wet, rainy day. I think of another Maya Angelou quote.
“Nothing can dim the light which shines from within.”
I pick it up and my own rays of sunshine emanate from this gem. It is not only my sunshine, but my inner light and dream that I had buried so deep, so long ago, I was not sure where look to find it…but here it is! The gem was waiting for me, waiting for me to uncover it, brush off the dirt, and unleash the potential I locked away in fear all those years ago. I’m not sure where this path will lead, but I am ready to start the journey.
Love and Blessings ❤