Goodbye, Maya

Caged Bird

A free bird leaps on the back of the wind
and floats downstream till the current ends
and dips his wing in the orange suns rays and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks down his narrow cage
can seldom see through his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings with a fearful trill
of things unknown but longed for still
and his tune is heard on the distant hill
for the caged bird sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings with a fearful trill
of things unknown but longed for still
and his tune is heard on the distant hill
for the caged bird sings of freedom.
~Maya Angelou
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

There has been an explosion of difficult, but important, conversations happening over the internet, in public, and in our homes this week pertaining to the mass shooting carried out last week by Elliot Rodgers. My own husband and I have has some long, tough talks about how my position as a woman in society, in our marriage, and in my career are affected by men who feel a level of entitlement to my attention. It was hardest of all to explain to my own husband that, yes, he too sometimes perpetuates this attitude with how he talks to me, about me, and about other women. A lot of men have had the wind knocked out of their sails this week by women who have finally spoken up about not only the traumatic moments in our lives, but the seemingly mundane ones that show just how subjugated we still are. I can only hope that more discussion, better awareness, and most importantly kindness can come of what happened. D has come out of it more aware of how my life has been shaped by the men who have tried to ruin it, and is far more aware now of how to change his own behavior to make sure his actions and words match his undying love and respect for me. I don’t know if the message will stick with everyone, but I’m really hoping it does with him. He’s a great guy. He’s not perfect, and none of us are, but his willingness to listen to me without being defensive, and without offering up tired excuses for his past mistakes, is what gives me hope.

It has been difficult to keep my opinions to myself, especially because it goes against the who nature of what women have been trying to get out there this week – that our voices need to be heard so that boys…and men…understand how difficult and scary this world can be for women. Keeping quiet online was a conscious choice I made initially because, to be honest, I think many other women have said it far better than I have.

One of those women is Maya Angelou.

Of all the books I’ve read over the many years of my life, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is still one of the most vivid and life-changing books I read as a teenage girl. She taught me that growing up a girl can be a frightening, painful, and degrading thing – but that out of that pain, those girls can grow into amazing women who transcend their circumstances and do great things for others. While it was difficult for me to read about a young girl being molested by someone she should have been able to trust, living in poverty, and getting pregnant at 16, she never once wanted her reader to feel pity for her. She rose above it, and gave women the world over a strong message we take with us everywhere we go: Our strength comes from our fragility, and our ability to navigate the world in spite of it.

Angelou’s life is a great reminder to women who are hurt and upset this week to take a deep breath and keep going. She made it through a pretty rough childhood, and grew up to be a great teacher, writer, leader, mother, and role model. And for that, we can all be grateful.

“You can’t forgive without loving. And I don’t mean sentimentality. I don’t mean mush.
I mean having enough courage to stand up and say, ‘I forgive. I’m finished with it.”

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