I’m not a superstitious person. Much. I mean, aside from the part where I avoid mirrors after midnight, raise my feet when the car bumps over railroad tracks, and make sure all shower curtains are WIDE open if I’m alone in the house – (Did you see The Shining?) – my worldview is scientific. I don’t throw salt over my shoulder if I spill it, I don’t cross the street to avoid walking past a cemetery, and I’m actually rather fond of black cats. But there is this thing about Providence, interpreted in my Lutheran family to mean (roughly paraphrased): “If you crow about how good you have it, God will find a way to fuck up your life,” that makes me somewhat… cautious.
You all know I prefer moral philosophy to western theology, but that stuff you learn in Sunday School defies expulsion. It sticks. Like the little crosses we wove with red and yellow thread, and the correct pronunciation of “risen”. And so I tread carefully, here, because there is something I’ve been gasping to share with you that may very well get me struck by lightning.
I went to see Maya Angelou speak last week. (*glancing up cautiously*)
I bought a seat at the end of the second centre row because the timer counting down the online seat purchase was driving me crazy, and I couldn’t get the “Best Seats Available” to select anything I would interpret as “Best Seats”, and in a state of near panic with sweat in my eyebrows and staring wide eyes, I clicked “Buy” and flopped back into my chair. Then I had rum. (Yeah, yeah. Yuck it up. I work with children for a living, alright?) There was no way I could have known that the set designers from La-Z-Boy would place a piano on the far right side of the stage to be used for two warbling “inspirational” songs. Or that they would fill the back of the stage with a useless “conversation suite” arranged with decorative accents. Symmetry thus demanded Dr. Angelou’s wooden chair and wobbly table be placed toward the front of stage left. (I cannot believe they gave her a wobbly table. Holy hell.)
The house was sold out. I expected there would be tall people in front of me with hats or elaborate hair-dos, or something. Looking at her set and where I was seated, I expected to have to crouch between the shoulders of strangers or lean way back in my chair to watch her face. But the two seats in front of me stayed empty. The one seat beside me vacated just a few minutes into Dr. Angelou’s presentation. I sat alone, directly in front her while she talked, in her way, about the light we can find in dark places, if we look, and about the joy of words, and so many other things. About the way, when you’re a black child and your mother is brushing your hair, she has to hold the back of your neck just so, so as not to break it while she muscles the comb through. And the joy of teaching in unconventional settings, to unconventional people. And the flight that happens, joyously, when the words lift you up and let you go.
There were many times I felt like she was talking to me. There were many times I met her warm, brown eyes and felt like at the end of her life she knew something so important about mine that she needed to tell me directly and make sure I understood. In hindsight, of course, I know she is a master stage performer and her gift is to make all listeners feel just like that. I know that. But inside – like Providence, like the tears on my cheeks, like the face in the mirror, like the risk on the tracks, and the closed shower curtain ripped wide…. Inside, I feel profoundly and illogically blessed.
Thank you, Dr. Angelou.