What do woodworking and Maya Angelou have in common? Not much. But after seeing her speak a few days ago in Minneapolis, I have to jot down an impression or two.
|Maya at her 82nd birthday party|
The curtain opens and there sits 84-year-old Maya Angelou. Her 6-foot frame rests comfortably in the chair. She has no notes or prompts; just a head full of stories and a keenness of mind that makes one think old age must start at 85 or beyond. She begins by belting out a few lines from an old blues standard. The packed house is enthralled. People laugh, cry, clap, whistle and shout "amen." And it only gets better.
|Maya receiving the Presidential Award of Freedom|
One of the lines from the song exclaims, "When it looked like the sun wasn't going to shine any more, God made a rainbow in the clouds." And that was her theme for the night: A look at these rainbows that helped make her—and all of us—who we are; people who love, support, teach and guide us in, sometimes, unexpected ways even in the darkest, cloudiest of times.
Maya's rainbows didn't come easy. She was shuttled between parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles while growing up. At the age of 8 she was raped. She told her brother about it and her abuser was found dead a few days later. Convinced her voice had killed him, she went mute for 5 years. It was during those five years Maya developed her keen sense of observation and a love of writing and literature.
She had a child at 17 and made ends meet working as a streetcar conductor, cook and prostitute. But the rainbows in her life—and an indomitable spirit—drove her upward. She became a dancer, singer, actress, author, playwright, teacher, poet and speaker. She challenged those in the audience to think about the rainbows in their lives and how they could become rainbows in the lives of others.
Her other theme was the need for courage—a trait Maya does not lack. Without courage, all other traits, strengths and aspirations lay dormant or, at best, underutilized.
The takeaway from the evening was clear: Think about and thank those who have been rainbows in your clouds. And use your courage and strengths—whether it's woodworking, wisdom or time—to become a rainbow for others.