By Bill Henk – The College of Education at Marquette University mourns the recent passing of the brilliant literary figure, passionate champion of civil rights, and extraordinary human being, Dr. Maya Angelou.
As her most well-known protégé, Oprah Winfrey, put it, “The world knows her as a poet, but at the heart of her, she was a teacher.” For this reason, among many others, it is fitting to salute Dr. Angelou here. To do so, I share two of her works, one about dying and one about living.
WHEN I THINK OF DEATH
When I think of death, and of late the idea has come with alarming frequency,
I seem at peace with the idea that a day will dawn when I will no longer be among those living in this valley of strange humors.
I can accept the idea of my own demise, but I am unable to accept the death of anyone else.
I find it impossible to let a friend or relative go into that country of no return.
Disbelief becomes my close companion, and anger follows in its wake.
I answer the heroic question ‘Death, where is thy sting? ‘ with ‘ it is here in my heart and mind and memories.’
I keep on dying again.
Veins collapse, opening like the
Small fists of sleeping
Memory of old tombs,
Rotting flesh and worms do
Not convince me against
The challenge. The years
And cold defeat live deep in
Lines along my face.
They dull my eyes, yet
I keep on dying,
Because I love to live.
Rather than lament ‘the sting in our hearts and minds and memories’ that her departure creates, let us celebrate Maya Angelou’s life as a gift to the world. Again in Oprah’s words, “…what stands out to me most … is not what she has done or written or spoken, it’s how she lived her life. She moved through the world with unshakeable calm, confidence and a fierce grace.”
A revered literary, egalitarian, and humanitarian voice may have fallen silent, but the wisdom and character of Maya Angelou’s words will live on forever, influencing generation after generation. There is no more profound tribute to a great teacher.
My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” Maya Angelou.