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Maya Angelou, at 83, quite simply took my breath away

Posted: October 19, 2011

Yesterday morning, at the national LeadingAge annual conference in D.C., I heard Maya Angelou speak.  According to the biography they provided, Dr. Angelou is a celebrated poet, historian, best-selling author, actress, playwright, civil-rights activist, producer and director.  Her list of published verse, non-fiction and fiction now includes more than 30 best-selling titles.

Having heard her in person this morning, I feel her biography massively understates her power and accomplishments.  She quite simply took my breath away.  At age 83, she is elegant, thoughtful, inspiring and beautiful in every sense of the word.  She magnificently shared elements of her life story (including that she choose not to speak at all between the ages of 5 and 11 due to experiencing a trauma) and when she found her voice she wanted to teach and learn.

Her theme was “rainbow in the clouds” meaning hope in the midst of troubles.  She explained that clouds block the sun, but when you feel that you see only dreariness and can’t see beyond, G-d puts a rainbow in the clouds to offer beauty. People appear in other people’s lives to offer help and hope.  When she walks on a stage, she claims, she feels that all the people who have helped her or shown kindness along the way are coming on with her--from her grandmother who raised her to the person who simply held a doorway open for her to pass with bundles in her hands.  Appreciation.

Whatever bad may be happening to you, she urged us to remember there are many who went to sleep last night and never woke up, who would give anything to have the problem you are now facing rather than non-existance.  To reinforce this attitude, she recommended that everyone avoid kvetching because “complaining lets a brute know that there’s a victim in the neighborhood”! 

Finally, she urged all of us to be the rainbow in other people’s clouds because it is utterly impossible to give without getting.  Remarkable how consistent this theme was with an earlier speaker, Mary Robinson (former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights) who quoted Article 29 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:  “Everyone has duties to the community, without performing which you will not reach the full potential of your personality.”


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