In November of my senior year in high school, a team of surgeons cut my torso apart and put it back together, or so it seemed to me.

I’d had a mostly naive concept of pain until that time. Whatever sprains and fractures and cuts and stitches I’d had issued manageable pain. Pain I could be distracted from.

The pain from the surgery was another thing entirely. It was the kind of pain that demanded complete concentration in order to cope. Even TV was overwhelming.

For several months, I couldn’t go to school. It was an achievement to walk the length of three suburban houses to the corner and back. I spent a lot of time in my comfy chair.

When I could do more than mostly sit in my comfy chair — but still couldn’t go to school — I started walking almost daily to the library and back, very, very slowly.

And I borrowed and read Maya Angelou’s memoirs, beginning by re-reading I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings and then continuing, one after the other, until I finished.

I can’t explain why I needed and craved and couldn’t get enough of Angelou’s voice when I was coming out of a cave of suffering at such a crucial point in my life.

I only know that her words strengthened my weakened and wearied soul; that her words somehow helped me to inhabit my own body again.

Last year, when I was going through a different kind of difficult time, her words in her final installment of her memoirs, Mom and Me and Mom, kept me going.

She was, in her own words, a “Phenomenal Woman“; a woman who overcame; a woman who transformed ashes into beauty, silence into music, pain into joy.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
‘Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Maya Angelou speaking at Obama campaign. Greenboro, SC, 2008. Photo courtesy Talbot Troy via Wikimedia Commons.

Maya Angelou speaking at Obama campaign. Greenboro, NC, 2008. Photo courtesy Talbot Troy via Wikimedia Commons.

Rest in Peace, Ms. Angelou. And thank you.




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