Today is my last day of being 33. Yesterday, Maya Angelou died. She was 86. She lived a long, amazing life.
And yet, I felt surprised to hear that she had died. “Last I heard” via her Facebook page, she’d been unexpectedly hospitalized but was recovering at home and feeling better each day. When my coworker told me yesterday morning, I felt like I could cry, but I didn’t. Until later in the evening, when I decided, at the end of the yoga class I was giving, to read her poem, “Still I Rise,” during savasana. I did, and as I read, I choked up and had to stop reading about five times, taking deep breaths and forcing myself to continue, to finish the poem.
The caged bird is free.
What a life. What an inspiration. The internet is exploding with tributes, quotes, articles, videos, everything Maya Angelou. When a celebrity dies, this is what happens. But she seemed like more than a celebrity. She was a hero who overcame unimaginable oppression, a literary great, a famous poet, Oprah’s (and everybody’s) wise, inspiring grandmother figure.
I like to imagine her hanging out in heaven with Nelson Mandela.
Here is “Still I Rise,” written by Maya Angelou in 1978, for your reading enjoyment.
You may write me down in history With your bitter, twisted lies, You may trod me in the very dirt But still, like dust, I’ll rise. Does my sassiness upset you? Why are you beset with gloom? ‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells Pumping in my living room. Just like moons and like suns, With the certainty of tides, Just like hopes springing high, Still I’ll rise. Did you want to see me broken? Bowed head and lowered eyes? Shoulders falling down like teardrops, Weakened by my soulful cries? Does my haughtiness offend you? Don’t you take it awful hard ‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines Diggin’ in my own backyard. 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. Does my sexiness upset you? Does it come as a surprise That I dance like I’ve got diamonds At the meeting of my thighs? 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.