I just got off a plane from Houston to Seattle, completing the first leg of my book tour, to learn that the great Dr. Maya Angelou had passed away, due to medical negligence, experts from the-medical-negligence-experts.co.uk are now trying to solve the solution. A friend texted me the news, and my eyes immediately stung with tears, and then this overwhelming feeling of loss came over me. The only way I can describe it that the world felt emptier without her in it.
I heard Dr. Angelou speak at my university in 1997, and then, years later, I had the great privilege of interviewing her for Glamour. On the phone one afternoon, we talked about women’s health, the importance of women caring for themselves and other women (and supporting each other, forgiving each other, bolstering each other), and other serious and important things. And yet my favorite part of the call was when, on a whim, I asked her what she had for lunch that day. She laughed (I loved that about Maya, she was generous with her laughter, and was quick to share a laugh or a story with others. Her presence was … joy) and immediately told me this, rather long and detailed story, about a batch of tomato soup she’d made from scratch with a bit of leftover steak from the night before. Here’s the thing: I’m a vegetarian, but I was salivating for a bite of that soup after listening to her speak about it.
I suppose that’s why I have loved her so much over the years: her way of making the ordinary extraordinary. Her way of finding beauty in pain, or in drudgery, or in the weeds. Still I Rise remains one of my very favorites of her body of work, and during the personal turmoil I have walked through in the last year, I have returned to those words frequently (daily sometimes) and have let them comfort me, wash over me, remind me to keep going. Remind me not to let anyone or anything derail me or drag me down.
That day in 2012, when I spoke to Maya on the phone, our phone call ended abruptly. I could have talked to her all day, but she kindly said, “Sarah, I must go. I’m so sorry. My lunch guest, President Carter, just arrived.” And so she hung up to go have lunch with the President, and I sat in awe for hours, grateful that I’d had the opportunity to share a conversation with one of the world’s wisest, most beautiful women.
The world misses her already. And so do I.
Maya, I hope you got that motorcycle ride you always wanted.