Dr. Maya Angelou is a gracious, wise, and witty woman who has been an absolute treasure to our nation and our world. I just learned that she will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and I can't think of anyone more deserving. Of all the things that Dr. Angelou has accomplished, I am most impressed by her ability to radiate optimism even in pessimistic times and to teach about "the courage to love". I am fortunate to have her as an advisor, sister, friend and board member at Bennett College for Women. So often, I have had the blessing of sitting at her feet and receiving phenomenal words of advice and guidance. My dear friend, Robby Gregg, shared a Thanksgiving message from Dr. Angelou that motivates this column:
"I'm grateful for being here, for being able to think, for being able to see,
For being able to taste, for appreciating love - for knowing that it exists in a
world so rife with vulgarity, with brutality and violence, and yet love exists.
I'm grateful to know that it exists."
I savored Dr. Angelou's words on the Sunday before Thanksgiving as I despaired over the Tea Party nonsense and the "vulgarity, brutality, and violence" that too frequently define our world. I was mourning the fact that four young women who were pledging Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. at East Carolina University were in a horrible car accident, with two dying and two holding on to life. The girls were 19 and 20 years old, the accident a one-car accident, the tragedy monumental, the mourning extreme. And even in mourning death, I am reminded by Dr. Maya to give thanks for life and for its ebbs and flows.
Even as I fight with life (what's the point) and its extreme and profound unfairness, I also savor the spirit of gratitude that rests on my shoulders like a stole and makes it possible for me to manage the rage I often feel at life's unfairness. I had a morning one day last week that made me utterly unfit for human company, and then I traveled to New York to greet more than 50 folks who came out for a book signing at the wonderfully warm Hue Man bookstore in Harlem. In my mind I asked the woman who was smiling in the evening to say a few words to the woman who was scowling in the morning, and I gave thanks.
Despite the drubbing Democrats took in the mid-term elections and the obvious obstruction Republicans plan in this next Congress, I remain grateful for leaders like President Barack Obama, now-Minority leader Nancy Pelosi, and South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn. I'm not so grateful for Maryland's Steny Hoyer, but I am sure that I'll get over it. I just can't figure out how this man thought he should have Clyburn's slot as Whip, and how Clyburn let him have it.
I suppose I am grateful for the likes of Rush Limbaugh whose racism (he had a series of extremely unflattering things to say about Clyburn) is galling. I am grateful for Limbaugh and Beck because they are poster children for ignorance, the kind of people you want to point to as examples of what not to be. They are the wind beneath Sarah Palin's wings, and Mrs. Palin, for all her newfound influence (enough to get the talented Brandy ejected from Dancing with the Stars in favor of the clumsy Bristol), is not an example of much more than opportunism.
And yet love exists, says Dr. Maya. It does. It exists as tens of thousands of Americans devote at least part of their thanksgiving to feeding those who will not eat. It exists as people choose to spend part of their holiday time asking for change for the Salvation Army, and as even more people offer money to help others. It exists as people bring canned goods and wrapped toys to the charities that have promised to help families whose Christmas seasons might otherwise not be so bright. Would that it would exist for Haiti, where promised dollars still have not reached that beleaguered country. Love exists.
I am indebted to Dr. Maya for her Thanksgiving sentiments, to Robby Gregg for sharing them, to the Creator for grace and gratitude and for the love that exists.