RIP: Dr. Maya Angelou

Published by Torrence Glenn on Wednesday, May 28, 2014 at 2:12 pm.

I don’t like to take pictures. Maybe that’s the wrong word. I’m afraid of taking pictures. Ok, maybe that’s the wrong word too. I’m somewhat uncomfortable with taking pictures with people or asking them to… Maybe that’s it. It’s hard to find the words for the reason that I’m somewhat picture averse, but there’s a point here. Because I can’t explain it to you, you’ll probably never understand. (Now, don’t get me wrong, if you ask to take a photo I’ll never say no or be shady or anything like that. Lol) Words are important and as much as I hate when they’re overused, I acknowledge and realize how necessary and powerful they are and can be.  On Wednesday, May 28, 2014  Dr. Maya Angelou who taught me… us…  the strength and profound impact of words died at 86 years old.

I can remember when I met her. It was in 2007. She was a special guest on that season of Bobby Jones Gospel. All of us who were working on the show knew that she was coming and that we’d have to make some special accommodations for her arrival and her time there but we didn’t “get it” until she got there. Some famous people are all hype. They have a talent or gift that has put them on the world stage and they’re made into a “superstar” and with that comes a certain amount of fascination and admiration that is otherworldly. We believe in their uniqueness and their grandeur and the idea that they are made of something different… Above us in some way because they are so special. And if you’re ever in the position to meet most famous people, you know that a lot of that mysticism or fantasy quickly fades away. This in no way diminishes or takes away from their greatness but there’s a moment when natural and shall I say “basic” humanity becomes apparent. The veil is lifted and you realize (sometimes painfully) that they’re not all that you had expected or been made to believe they were. In the words of many of my LA friends you realize “they regular.”

Dr. Angelou though, was different. The hype was REAL. She was far from regular. When you met her or came into her presence you realized that the thing you thought you’d feel or see was legitimate and tangible in her presence. As a poet and writer it’s easy to conclude that she had a way with words and was thoughtful in how she used them. But as a women in her everyday speech, to see that same care and thoughtfulness was striking. There’s a cadence, tone and intensity that she speaks with that you think is only presented on large stages and platforms. So to be greeted by her or have her answer your questions with the same level of grace and thoughtfulness was mind blowing and jarring in the most beautiful way. She didn’t put it on or turn it on, it was who she was.

So when she arrived on set and moved through the halls and spoke to the staff and cast at different moments and somehow, despite her declining health managed to leave the impression that we were all individually meaningful and powerful just by speaking to us; I realized just how important words were. And with that, the potency your voice can add to words. We’ve read her works to ourselves and out loud but something happens when you hear it with the right voice. Literally as we moved about the rest of the day preparing for the show everyone had the same story. “Let me tell you what Dr. Angelou SAID TO ME.” Some of it was profound, some of it was just plain ole funny as her wit was top notch, and some of it was just as simple as “Excuse Me” or “I don’t mind” when asked to take a photograph.

I took a lot of photographs that day all for people who for good reason would be remiss to not have a reminder of the day or the moment they got to be in her presence. As I held the various personal cameras and cell phones with their varying degrees of complexity (seriously though, the flash button should be front and center); I watched her encourage people and even admonish them not to kneel or bow next to her as she had to be seated for most of the pictures because of the stress and pace of TV production. I know some artists who will make you kneel down to their level when taking a photo so as not to appear “short” but Dr. Angelou had a level of pride and grace that no wheelchair could distract or discount.

I didn’t take a photo with her that day. Because I don’t like to, or maybe because I’m afraid to, or maybe because…. Yeah, I’m still learning how to “use my words.” Thank you Dr. Maya Angelou for teaching us.


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