My Brief Encounter With the Perfect Imperfection of Maya Angelou
I am an incredibly imperfect woman living in a society of people who hide their imperfections much better than I do.
Some are better able to hold their tongues. Others have achieved such brilliant success that it hides any inadequacies. And then there are the people who spend a great deal of time and energy covering up any deficiencies.
Since my tongue often seems to engage before my brain, my successes are nothing out of the ordinary and I choose to spend my time and energy just being me, I don’t mind that people know I’m far from perfect.
Despite that, I’m always striving to become a better person. For that, I need inspiration, which most often comes from other admittedly imperfect women.
These are the women who make me believe.
They make me believe that even those of us who are flawed can accomplish great things. They make me believe that past mistakes and missteps are the fundamental ingredients for a rich life. And they make me believe that, despite injustice and unfair odds, believing in possibilities can only result in magic.
My inspiration comes from women who have overcome barriers and have an honest compassion for those who are still struggling.
And, of course, my inspiration comes from women who can express all this in writing — women like Maya Angelou.
Despite her splendid poetry and prose, her insightful observations of human behavior and the reverence she must encounter everywhere she goes, Maya Angelou doesn’t deny who she is: an imperfect woman who has struggled but, through the support and encouragement of others, done the most she can with the gifts bestowed upon her.
Last week, she shared both her humility and her humor with an audience in Charleston, West Virginia at an event celebrating the 100th anniversary of the YWCA. Thanks to an invitation from a friend, I was fortunate to be in the audience as she poked fun at herself, challenged all of us to empathize with those who are different and encouraged us to think of possibilities.
She talked about her years of silence following the conviction and murder or the man who raped her as a young girl and how poetry freed her. She encouraged us to always find something to make us smile and, when we can’t, to write about something that does. And, she lectured about not blaming others for past injustices but rather thanking those who endured them and taking responsibility for future generations.
In short, she was amazing. I was either laughing or crying the entire time she was speaking.
And then she read her poem “A Brave and Startling Truth,” which she wrote in honor of the 50th anniversary of the United Nations. About halfway into the poem, she lost her place. She faltered, fumbled then regained her composure as she finished.
I know during those moments of silence while she searched for her place, all of us seated at the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences were holding our breath. She had earlier reminded us that she is 84 years old, and that fact sunk into our brains and into our souls.
The moment was brief, and it passed. But it had still occurred.
Yet, at the end of the evening, Dr. Angelou held her head high, showed appreciation for the applause and ended her talk with dignity.
Some might think she was trying to cover her mistake, but I know she was simply demonstrating why she is so great. Instead of being defined by her mistakes and struggles, she soars through self acceptance and overcoming challenges.
If that’s not inspiration, I don’t know what is.