Yesterday Maya Angelou died. I remember meeting her. It was on one of my flights from Dulles to San Francisco in the mid-70s. She was sitting in seat 7B, back near the first class galley of the stretch DC 8, a large jet, and I was working as "galley slave" cooking and preparing carts for dinner service.
After dinner was over and the movie was being shown, somehow Maya and I started talking. The movie didn't interest her and I was just recently out of the hospital, still very sick from my bout with Schizophrenia and not able to make conversation with passengers. What I remember from talking with Maya was that she responded to me with warm and loving compassion, drawing out my interest in painting, cheering my desire to express myself through art, and sharing her own memories of not wanting to talk as a young child.
I was inspired by her passion for writing and dance and felt so connected to her as she explained that for her art was an essential means for expressing and shaping that something from deep within, especially when it was never clear what it was and where it would lead her. I also remember that throughout our thirty minute or more conversation I didn't know who Maya Angelou was. What I did know from the start was that she was accomplished, fascinating, and remarkable. Her grace and presence were palpable.
As our conversation began to close, she mentioned having written a book and asked that I try to read it. She said she wrote to be read, to share her life story with others as a way of reaching out, to help show that a life of lemons can be made into lemonade. On my layover in San Francisco, I immediately went to the book store and bought " I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings."
That day, Maya Angelou taught me to sing. Without that special conversation, I might not have tried.
Thank you Maya.