por Maya Angelou (May 10, 2018)
Maya: Yes. And I know that whatever I have is a gift. I accept that, and I’m grateful to those who went before me so that I can do what I’m supposed to do for those who are yet to come. That’s humility.
Oprah: How is it that you came to be this wise? Because you would say you’re wise, wouldn’t you?
Maya: Well, I’m en route. I am certainly on the road.
Oprah: Is it because you’ve paid such close attention in your life?
Maya: I do pay attention. I love wisdom. And you can never be great at anything unless you love it. Not be in love with it, but love the thing, admire the thing. And it seems that if you love the thing, and you don’t just want to possess it, it will find you. But if you’re in love with the thing, it may run like hell away from you.
Oprah: But if you love it, it looks for you as you look for it.
Maya: That’s right.
Oprah: Just listening to you now, I’m thinking, “What is it about Maya?” I think it’s that you know yourself.
Oprah: You know that you are supported by something bigger than yourself. That you are loved. That you have the right to stand up for yourself. And that comes from knowing who you are.
Maya: And I not only have the right to stand up for myself, but I have the responsibility. I can’t ask somebody else to stand up for me if I won’t stand up for myself. And once you stand up for yourself, you’d be surprised that people say, “Can I be of help?”
Oprah: That is true. I love your intolerance of whining. I’ve never forgotten what you told me: “Whining is just unbecoming.”
Maya: It lets the brute know there’s a victim for him in the neighborhood!
Oprah: As you know, my daily quest for the show and this magazine is to help women see who they are. Women tell me over and over, “I feel like I’ve lost myself. I don’t know who I am.” How is it that you know who you are? And have you always known since the first words in Caged Bird?
Maya: When I was 19 or 20, a wonderful thing happened to me—terrifying but wonderful. When I was younger, I thought my grandmother was probably God and she just wouldn’t tell anybody! She was so strong and kind. And when my grandmother died, I realized that even if I had millions of dollars, I couldn’t find her anywhere on earth. And my next thought was that I would die. Oprah, I used to go into my house, see that my son was asleep, and after turning all the locks on the door, I would put a chair under the doorknob. I didn’t realize that I was trying to keep death out. Then I began having trouble breathing. I didn’t have asthma, but my breathing was labored. Finally, I had to come to grips with what was the matter with me. I looked at my life and thought, “I’m afraid to die.” And I concluded that whether I was afraid or not, I would die. I don’t think I’ve ever talked to you about this.
Maya: It was one of the most important crossroads in my life, because once I realized that no matter what, I would do this thing, the next step was to think, “If I am going to do the most difficult and frightening thing—dying—is it possible that I could do some difficult and maybe seemingly impossible things that are good?”
Oprah: Was this a conscious thought?
Maya: Yes. I thought, “Just suppose I could choreograph a ballet.” And I did it. Suppose I could teach dance at the theater in Cleveland. And I did it. Suppose I could sing for a living—that I could stop these two jobs as a waitress and a salesperson.
Oprah: Had you thought about doing that before but didn’t have the courage?
Maya: It had never occurred to me. I’m going to die. So why can’t I do everything? And what is this idea that I worked all day yesterday, so I’m tired today? I’ve never believed that.
Oprah: That is why everyone marvels at your stamina—your ability to continue to be out there speaking, teaching and giving, giving, giving. We think, “How does she do it? I need a nap!”
Maya: I think a nap or a rest overnight is great. But who needs three days of rest? Please! The second day, you might die.
Oprah: So I think I’ve got this: You realized you would die—and not just intellectually, because we all know it intellectually.
Maya: Yes, ma’am.
Oprah: I think many people live in complete denial of the fact that they are going to die. They pretend it’s not going to happen. That’s why some people won’t even go to the doctor.
Maya: Yes. Some think, “If I marry this guy who’s two inches taller than I am and who has a nice bank account, I won’t die. If I buy six cars, I won’t die. If I hate Jews, I won’t die. If I hate homosexuals, I won’t die.” They think they will increase their life by shunting misery onto somebody else, but it’s just the opposite.
Oprah: Is there nothing that frightens you? You never seem to be unsure about anything. Were you always that way?
Maya: You’d be surprised what coming to grips with the fact that you will die does for you.
Mother, A Cradle to Hold Me
It is true
I was created in you.
It is also true
That you were created for me.
I owned your voice.
It was shaped and tuned to soothe me.
Your arms were molded
Into a cradle to hold me, to rock me.
The scent of your body was the air
Perfumed for me to breathe.
During those early, dearest days
I did not dream that you had
A large life which included me,
For I had a life
Which was only you.
Time passed steadily and drew us apart.
I was unwilling.
I feared if I let you go
You would leave me eternally.
You smiled at my fears, saying
I could not stay in your lap forever.
That one day you would have to stand
And where would I be?
You smiled again.
I did not.
Without warning you left me,
But you returned immediately.
You left again and returned,
I admit, quickly,
But relief did not rest with me easily.
You left again, but again returned.
You left again, but again returned.
Each time you reentered my world
You brought assurance.
Slowly I gained confidence.
You thought you know me,
But I did know you,
You thought you were watching me,
But I did hold you securely in my sight,
Recording every moment,
Memorizing your smiles, tracing your frowns.
In your absence
I rehearsed you,
The way you had of singing
On a breeze,
While a sob lay
At the root of your song.
The way you posed your head
So that the light could caress your face
When you put your fingers on my hand
And your hand on my arm,
I was blessed with a sense of health,
Of strength and very good fortune.
You were always
the heart of happiness to me,
Bringing nougats of glee,
Sweets of open laughter.
I loved you even during the years
When you knew nothing
And I knew everything, I loved you still.
Condescendingly of course,
From my high perch
Of teenage wisdom.
I spoke sharply of you, often
Because you were slow to understand.
I grew older and
Was stunned to find
How much knowledge you had gleaned.
And so quickly.
Mother, I have learned enough now
To know I have learned nearly nothing.
On this day
When mothers are being honored,
Let me thank you
That my selfishness, ignorance, and mockery
Did not bring you to
Discard me like a broken doll
Which had lost its favor.
I thank you that
You still find something in me
To cherish, to admire and to love.
I thank you, Mother.
I love you.”