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Maya Angelou: Upward to Heaven she sings

Dr. Maya Angelou: Inspiring
Dr. Maya Angelou: Inspiring
Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images

When legends pass, they become all the more legendary.

That happened today to Dr. Maya Angelou.

In the 1980s she became the teacher who writes, mentoring tens of thousands of students in universities around the world, disciples in a way -- impressionable, inexhaustible, naive, and determined youth. Conviction -- that's what Dr. Maya Angelou taught her students. Passion. Truth. Power. Part of her charm and her devilish wit came from her impeccable delivery. The woman was pure theatre. She could take any bromide and turn it into utter eloquence, just by her manner. She was gentle and fierce -- and she knew her stuff.

In her poetry sessions at the University of Oklahoma, she inspired a twenty-something 6' 7" young fellow, who loved words. When she stood, she only had to look up 7 inches for us to see eye-to-eye, literally. Metaphorically, she was already larger than life. But more than that, she poured hope into a certain student who rocketed through the quad on a motorized wheelchair, suffering from a hideous debilitation. The student had no legs from a birth defect and was stunted in numerous ways. But, boy, was there heart in that person -- a soul, a sort of caged bird, singing the sounds of exceptional poetry...poetry well worth the review and scrutiny of Dr. Maya Angelou. She became for many a modern day Paul Laurence Dunbar, a muse for fresh writers, often providing inspiration just by a tilt of her head and a slowly rising crease from her infectious smile.

Years later, as she sang "As the Deer Longs" from a piece of sheet music my future wife handed her at a book signing, Dr. Angelou smiled at me knowingly, remembering, pointing at my 6' 7" frame and declaring in a haunting whisper, "The dwarf." It was an Angelou moment, brimming with irony and wit.

Today, I woke up to find her passing by, not to sign a book or teach a lesson...but this time to say, "Good morning." This time for good.

Today She Rose

In Memory of Dr. Maya Angelou

She was our treasure

and gave us all she was worth.

She was a gift to us

and wanted nothing in return.

And now,

Upward to Heaven she sings!

Words have power

Like In the beginning was the Word.

And words, as she declared,

get into things:

Words got into her and came out

like a singing river rippling

through polished rocks,

finding a way to stream the truth,

to seek the steady flow

through the serpentine course.

She was an intrinsic mystery

with the pulse of a towering tree.

Vascular roots probing into the settled dust,

delivering nourishment for the tired souls

who boldly used words carelessly.

She, like words, got into things --

deep things -- things that were wrong.

But she always found the right things

to end on.

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