In Honor of Maya Angelou

“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”  – Maya Angelou

I’ll never forget the first time I encountered Maya Angelou’s poetry.  I sobbed through that first reading of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, not because of the grief of it all, but from relief. And that relief grew by leaps and bounds as I devoured every piece of writing by this magnificent woman that I could get my hands on.

As a young girl, reading Maya Angelou’s work, learning about her life and the multitude of ways she had triumphed over what many would consider to be insurmountable odds, I took it as irrefutable proof that outside forces could never detain or control the spirit that refused to be dominated by circumstance.

Of all of the gifts I received from Maya Angelou’s work, the most important lesson I took from her was this:

There is a difference between living a life that has known tragedy and living a tragic life. You get to decide.

Or, in Maya Angelou’s words, “No matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow.”

It’s the sort of gift that can never be repaid, only paid forward. Each day that we’re still alive is a chance for spiritual revival, and rather than mourn her death, I am celebrating her life, because she lived each day like it mattered. Her days mattered. Every single one. So do mine. So do yours.


Thank you, Dr. Maya Angelou, for the courage and tenacity of your 86 years. Thank you for doing what you loved. Thank you for persisting, overcoming, encouraging, and speaking out so boldly and relentlessly. Thank you for every single life you ever touched, the people you knew and loved intimately, and the hundreds of thousands of us you never knew, but forever changed.

When Great Trees Fall
Maya Angelou

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
gnaws on kind words
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly.  Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed.  They existed.
We can be.  Be and be
better.  For they existed.



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