Maya Angelou has passed. No writer–of poetry or other– has had such a profound influence on me the way Ms. Angelou has. The reason for this is that I had the opportunity to hear her recite her poem, Still I Rise, at a book festival a few years ago. Never, never, have any words, read or heard, moved me to tears the way hers did that day. That is what a writer should do to her readers: move them. Her words were on fire, and she lit a fire in me.
I found a recitation of that poem (somewhat modified for an occasion) here, starting at 5 minutes, 23 seconds:
One of my online writing buddies, Suzanne, pointed me to this prompt at The Daily Post: If one of your late ancestors were to come back from the dead and join you for dinner, what things about your family would this person find the most shocking?
My aunt recently passed away. She was our family’s genealogist for nearly fifty years. Her daughter recently found a document among her research notes that lists thirteen ancestors that served in the Continental Army during the American Revolution.
Participating in a revolution would have been dangerous enough, but the possibility of being captured and hung for treason or, if the patriots had not prevailed, most likely having their properties confiscated would have been very real. These men and their families felt so connected to their cause that they risked everything, everything, for it.
I can imagine any one of these men coming to dinner and looking at me from across the table with great disappointment and dismay. I hear him saying “What is your passion, your cause? What are you doing about it?”
I can feel myself blushing in shame as I sit there on my bourgeois butt, sipping a latte and fingering my latest Steve Jobs device. The blood of rebels runs through my veins. Rabble-rousing radicalism should be oozing from my pores. Yet I seemed to have fallen into a miasma of indifference.
No, I will not be planning a revolution so you guys in the suits with the ear inplants can just stand down. However, I do need to do an inventory of my belief system and begin excising that part of me which tolerates the status quo. I need to grow a backbone and accept the risks, as my ancestors did, of losing my perch in my self-prescribed comfort zone for a great cause.
I need to find my passion. Then I can honorably sit in the company of my forefathers at the dinner table and say, “Please pass the potatoes.”
I tossed out to the universe today the desire to have something amazing shown to me. I went to the park with an expectation that something would be there. It was amazing enough to see wild flowers shimmer with the energy of mid-spring and dragonflies skimming across the surface of a pond; however, I was not prepared to find myself suddenly surrounded by 30,000 (yes, thirty-thousand) people all running or walking to raise funds for the research and treatment of breast, ovarian, and uterine cancers.