Although there are many of her poems that I love, this is my favorite poem written by award-winning United States poet Maya Angelou. She died today at the age of 86. Her work has influenced the work of many poets. May she rest in peace.
STILL I RISE
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise. ~ Maya Angelou
I have a confession to make. Although I don’t watch television, with the aid of internet apps, I don’t have to miss my favorite shows. I, armed with a law degree, am embarrassed to admit that most of my favorite shows are about the supernatural. Give me zombies, witches, vampires and the like and I’m a happy girl. (I blame it on being born and raised in New Orleans, where tourists clamor for voodoo dolls and potions as souvenirs.) One of my all-time favorite shows is “Charmed.” Without going into boring detail, the show is about three sister witches whose destiny is to fight demons, warlocks and all manner of evil supernatural beings.
Anyway, in addition to loving what some would view as mindless drivel, I also love meaningful and thought-provoking quotes. As crazy as it sounds, I heard one as I watched an episode of “Charmed.” The quote is:
“Life only has meaning because there is an end. Death is what forces people to live.” ~Death, “Charmed,” Season 7, Episode 5.
Now, if you are like me, death is not on your top ten list of things to talk about. Yet, for all of our dodging the issue, it is an inevitability for each of us. I find the quote comforting in a way, because instead of focusing on death, it serves as a call to us to live each moment of our lives as enthusiastically and fully as possible. It punctuates the preciousness of our lives and incentivizes us to stop with the procrastination and to live our dreams, as meaningfully as we can. Take that long-awaited trip. Read that book that has been on your end table for months. Learn a new language. Use your best china, just because. Say I love you, over and over again. Take risks. Life offers endless possibilities.
Each of us has our own “bucket list,” and it is time to take it from the level of aspiration, to experience. The thing is that we put off our dreams and desires at our peril. Life is meant to be lived–now!
Recently, I met someone new — a possible friend. As we engaged in small talk, she asked one of the questions that I fear most. The question itself is innocuous: How many brothers and sisters do you have? You see, I told you that the question is most ordinary, however, it gives me pause each time that someone asks me. For most of my life, the answer to the question, if it arose, was a simple one. I’d answer, “I have two sisters and one brother.” However, the question took on greater import years ago when my baby brother died. In my case, that event turned a seemingly straightforward question into a quandary. I mean, technically, I now only have two siblings, but in my heart, I still have three. Which answer was true? Upon the death of my brother, did I lose a sibling or could I truthfully say that I had three? Perhaps the answer is immediately clear for others confronted with the same circumstance, but not for me. I have to finally answer that question, more for myself than others.
I hadn’t given it much thought until after his death, when the first person asked me the question. I was so surprised and flummoxed that I immediately excused myself and scurried away. I literally could not answer the woman’s question and it saddened me. I mean, even though my brother’s death was tragic enough, after so many years, one would think that I’d arrived at an answer. Yet, that was not the case.
I was the eldest of four siblings and my brother was the baby. With two sisters already, I longed to have a brother. When my mother brought him home from the hospital, I would sneak into her room, just to look at him sleeping — my baby brother. I vowed to protect him and keep him safe. We were nine years apart in age, but for reasons that still defy me, we had more of a bond and connection than I had with my sisters. I became pregnant at a young age, right after graduating high school, and left home to begin my own family. Since my family didn’t have a car, my brother would take 2-3 buses to come visit me in our extremely tiny and cramped apartment. As my pregnancy and subsequent marriage (before I was even 18) wasn’t popular in my family, I was on my own. Among my immediate family, my brother was the only one who made the effort to visit me regularly. It was a very scary time in my life and his presence made a difficult time easier to handle. I loved him even more.
Over the years, he grew into an amazing young man and I was a very proud sister. When I moved from New Orleans to Houston, Texas, I missed being a part of his everyday life. Still, I reveled in the important events in his life, like his graduation from high school, leaving home for the first time to attend college and more. Because of family and work obligations, I was unable to join him in celebrating many events, but I was certainly there in spirit. I looked forward to our telephone conversations and as he grew older, it was clear that our thoughts and feelings were in sync.
It devastated me when doctors diagnosed him with non-hodgkins lymphoma at the tender age of 23. He’d only just graduated from college and had yet to begin his life. He had an aggressive form of the disease with a grapefruit-sized tumor in his chest that had grown in less than 30 days, so it was a serious condition. His doctors immediately began a rigorous protocol that involved chemotherapy and radiation. I was in my last grueling year of law school and a single mom with two school age kids, so I was unable to go with my mother to San Francisco to be with him. Of course, I kept in constant contact with my mother, but it was a poor substitute for being there with them.
Having no alternative, he moved back to New Orleans so that my Mom could help care for him. The chemo and radiation continued for some time and it was two years before doctors declared him cancer-free. He was never the same. Adding to the tragedy, the radiation damaged his heart to the extent that at his young age, he was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and the only option was a heart transplant.
One thing that I loved about my brother is that he researched everything, to make very well-informed decisions. He had a computer long before almost anyone that I knew did, and quickly learned his way around the internet. After thoroughly researching the area of heart transplant and learning the plethora of negative side effects that would last for the rest of his life, he opted to forego a heart transplant. I was afraid but respected his very thoughtful and courageous decision, because even though he was cancer-free, the serious complications with his heart resulted in frequent visits to the hospital.
It was a very difficult time for him, but I admired the way that he confronted the situation with a bravery and grace that I hoped to have were I in his shoes. By this time, the little brother’s wisdom surpassed his big sister’s and I was fine with it. After his condition somewhat stabilized, he made a decision that further amazed me. He decided to return to school to get a Masters in Communications. After all that he’d gone through, and although he was still sick, he choose to move on with his life. Once again, he researched and decided to move away from home to enter the Master’s program at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, where he remained until his death in his last semester of study.
My brother was a courageous and gentle soul filled with compassion and a zest for life. He had a thirst for knowledge and adventure, and allowed nothing to hinder his dreams or his faith. He was everything that one could want in a brother and in my heart, he still lives and influences my life. More importantly, my love for him still grows, and he is and will always be my brother, wherever he may be. Nothing can severe our sibling bond, After all this time, suddenly, the answer seems so clear.
“And you will continue now, and forever, to redefine your relationship with your deceased loved one. Death doesn’t end the relationship, it simply forges a new type of relationship – one based not on physical presence but on memory, spirit, and love.” ~ Ashley Davis Bush, “Transcending Loss”
Finally, I have discovered the answer that lay in my heart. The next time that someone asks me “the” question, I will not hesitate to say, “I have three siblings — two sisters and one very special brother.” Of that, I no longer have any doubt.
I have to tell you upfront, that this post arises from this post on the website Wonderings & Wanderings. The question posed in the blog was a line from a Natalie Rosenberg book., “Tell me what you will miss when you die.” This post answers that question..
It seems right to post this on what would have been my brother’s 46th birthday. I am in my 50’s and the inevitability of my death crosses my mind quite regularly. My kids think it morbid, but it think it reality. I mean, there comes a time when we all die. Although there is much that I would miss, there is nothing more than my children and grandchildren, especially, those firsts in their lives that appear suddenly, pass too quickly and are forever etched in my heart. Of course, the list depends on when death occurs, so I chose to there are many more pleasures that we enjoy in this life, that are worth noting. My list, although not exhaustive, follows:
The sound of wind chimes on a breezy day.
The sound of boiling hot water as it pours into a cup for hot tea.
Watching the sun rise from my bed in the morning.
The birds chirping at the feeder outside of my bedroom window.
The way that freshly washed and starched cotton sheets feel on your skin.
The joy and appreciation of receiving the perfect present.
The ability to change.
The ability to forgive.
To be loved.
The act of forgiveness.
To be forgiven.
The sounds of ocean waves breaking on land.
The perfect pen.
My brother’s blue, pea coat that came to me after his death.
My brother’s watch that came to me after his death.
Being a Mom.
Being a g’mom.
The flutter of curtains as a breeze moves through the window.
Watching my children move through life.
Watching my grandchildren’s importance life moments.
I realize that I can go on forever, but I’ll stop now. What I know for sure is that when I press “publish,” there will be numerous things that I wish that I’d added to the list, but it was time to end.
Tell me what you’ll miss when you die. I’d love to hear your thoughts.