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Summoning The Courage To Write About Dr. Maya Angelou (The Greatesst Lesson I Learned From Her)

A friend of one of my Facebook friends posted that he saw no sizable difference in the number of comments from African-Americans and whites about the passing of Dr. Maya Angelou and concluded that, based on the number of comments, she meant no more to African-Americans than she did to whites.

What the person failed to take into account was that maybe we African-Americans were just stunned into silence.  Perhaps we could not find the words to express how we felt.

I know I couldn't.

What can any writer write about one of the most gifted writers of our generation?  What could any one writer say that hasn't already been said by the obituary writers, friends, family, and luminaries? 

With that in mind, I wrote nothing.  That is, until I summoned the courage to write this entry and share the greatest lesson Dr. Maya Angelou taught me and perhaps others.

Dr. Angelou's quote about courage being the most important virtue because, without it, you cannot practice the other virtues consistently, has been repeated a lot lately, as well as some of her other memorable lessons:  "When people show you who they are, believe them the first time," and "People may forget what you said or what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel."

However, the most important lesson I think Dr. Angelou imparted upon all of us is one that she didn't speak, but instead lived:  You don't have to be just one thing in this life.  You can be many things.

How often do we limit ourselves, or allow ourselves to be limited, thinking trite aphorisms like, "Jack of all trades, master of none," or walking away from something we love because we don't have the requisite 10,000 hours supposedly needed to master it?

What if Dr. Angelou had settled on being only a cable car conductor?  Think of all the other gifts she possessed and bestowed upon the world -- writing, dancing, singing, acting, directing, writing music, teaching, and being a civil rights activist and friend to the likes of Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King, James Baldwin AND Oprah Winfrey!  And she could cook, too!  Oh my, what a life!  She lived many lifetimes within one lifetime.  Why?  Because she didn't limit herself to being just one thing.

I've always had a penchant for doing many things and, combined with being a Gemini, that has caused me to be branded as uncommitted, flighty, indecisive, and a "master of none."  But Dr. Angelou was writing music and working very late in her life.  She did not let her age limit her creativity and curiosity.  Even at an age when, statistically speaking, she probably didn't have 10,000 hours to master one more thing, she never stopped doing the many things about which she was passionate.  Her refusal to recognize limits on what she could be is the greatest lesson to me and, in my view, to the world.

So summon up the courage to do all the things that interest you, that fuel passion within you.  Don't care what people think.  So what if you don't master any -- you're not being graded!  Dr. Angelou believed that courage is the greatest virtue because you could not practice the other virtues consistently without it.  I believe that courage is the greatest virtue because you cannot be your most complete and realized self without it.

Thank you and Godspeed, Dr. Angelou.  And thank you, Stanford University, my alma mater, for providing me the opportunity to meet Dr. Angelou.


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