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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Are You a Life-Giver or Life-Taker?

Today we lost a beautiful voice. Maya Angelo died. Twenty years ago, I read her autobiography, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings." Her story of abuse and survival invoked both pain and hope. While a child, she suffered abandonment by her parents, sexual abuse, verbal and physical abuse from racists, homelessness and becoming a mother. All before the age of 16.

One of her most famous poems is "Still I Rise." In it, she proclaims:

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise. 

I write this not only as a tribute to a beautiful soul, but in honor of someone who endured so much but embraced hope and strength. More importantly, she embraced empathy. I once heard her interviewed and she spoke of the importance of how you make people feel. She said, "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."

I think of this everyday. Because of it, the first time I see my children in the morning, I hug and kiss them before saying a word. During the day, every time they leave my presence, I make sure that the last thing they hear is "I love you." To be kind, grateful and empathetic, they need to first know that they're loved.

I was introduced to Maya Angelo 20 years ago through a book and her words have grounded me over two decades. Her experiences and perspective despite them have molded me. I recently heard that every encounter with another (either in person or through knowing their story) either feeds you or takes from you.

In spite of an excruciating past, she touched generations in a way that will outlive her for decades. I can only hope that my interactions with people leave them feeling loved instead of drained, and inspire a small measure of peace.

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