It is a little frustrating these days to decide whether or not someone is worth liking because of their politics. It is even more frustrating to see people who think nice things cannot be said of people on the other side of the aisle.
I am pretty sure that Maya Angelou and I would disagree on much politically, but I’d stand still on a hot bed of coals to hear her tell me she disagreed. I loved her mind and I loved her voice.
If you only read one thing today, please stop reading me and read this. Maya Angelou chose life and admitted that her child improved her life. She supported abortion rights, but she chose life. Some of her younger contemporaries to whom she would be compared did not and some have seen their children grow up to write their own stories of how their crusading parent put the crusade before the child, not choosing life by other choices. Others grew out of Maya Angelou’s shadow with a bitterness or malcontentedness the world never imposed on Maya Angelou. It has just always been obvious that Maya Angelou had a balanced, grounded soul.
I grew up in Dubai. I spent my formative years there. Returning to the United States at 15, after almost a decade abroad, I just simply did not get race issues in the United States. Too many people on both sides profit from keeping wounds from ever healing. Too many people hear dog whistles where none are blown. Too many people use race as a hammer to nail their opponents. Too little grace is shown for slips of the tongue or words inartfully phrased. It upsets me greatly, even more so because it stifles honest conversations over very real problems in this country from poverty to mental health.
In college, a very liberal professor of mine encouraged me to read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings to find some understanding of an experience I was largely ignorant of just by virtue of growing up in a different country. It might have been a more controversial book if I were younger, but in college I found it deeply moving and honest. I do not say that to be trite or cliched. The book is deeply personal and humbling. It has a rhythmic quality to it that Maya Angelou herself had.
Her writings helped me connect to others, other times, and issues I have had difficulty relating to.
She was of the left. I am of the right. But her voice could sing a spoken harmony of words that calmed souls, lit fires, and made the mind dance. Her voice had strength in it that those of us who might disagree with her on issues could still connect to.
Even before I took a job in radio, I paid attention to voices. Being partly deaf (I bet you did not know that), certain voices have always resonated with me. They fix in my mind and draw me to some people in a way the same words from a different voice would not. Paul Harvey was one of the first voices with that effect on me. Maya Angelou’s voice was one of the first female voices that did the same.
I have learned over the years, particularly during my time at CNN, that one can have friendships with those whose life, issues, politics, or values do not align with my own. I had a friendship with Maya Angelou’s beautiful voice. I could listen to her read a grocery list and it would be an emotional event.
I never met Maya Angelou. But I admired her from afar. Some people are just worthy of praise, regardless of their positions, convictions, or titles. We should not be so counter-cultural to the present culture and politics that we as conservative are not willing to recognize that caged bird sang a melody worth humming along to even when we didn’t care for the words.
And she chose life.