Category Archives: Obituaries

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Maya Angelou was born on April 4, 1928 — an Aries, like me.

In June of 1973, my roommate at Delta Flight Attendant training school in Atlanta, Georgia, was a Black woman from Chicago, Illinois. Our training only lasted six weeks, but our friendship spanned several years.

I don’t remember her name, but I’ll never forget the secret she shared with me.

As a result, I shared my secret with her as well.

The Christmas following our Delta graduation, she gave me Maya Angelou’s book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

Maya Angelou was raped at seven years old — her attacker was dating her mother back then. Maya eventually told her brother about the attack, who subsequently informed their mother. And lucky for Maya, her mother reported it to the police.

Her rapist was found guilty but spent just one day in jail. Immediately after his release, he was found kicked to death.

Some might be appalled by what I think, but in my mind, justice was served as best as it could be.

Upon learning of her rapist’s death, Maya refused to speak for nearly five years, thinking that her saying his name had killed him. Oh, if it were only true for all of us.

In the five years that she was intentionally mute, she depended solely on her listening and observing skills, to which I can relate.

Growing up in Bridgeport, Connecticut, my Franco-American grandmother taught me that kids are to be seen but never heard. When my grandmother didn’t want me to know what she was saying, she spoke to my mother and great-grandmother in French.

As a result, I became adept at listening, observing, and translating conversational French into English.

It was Angelou’s teacher, Bertha Flowers, who helped her regain her voice, and the rest is poetic history.

Over the years, Angelou’s words have been an enormous comfort and continue to resonate deep within me.

Here are some of my favorite words Maya Angelou taught me to live by:

“There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside you.”

“A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer; it sings because it has a song.”

“The caged bird sings with a fearful trill of things unknown but longed for still and his tune is heard on the distant hill for the caged bird sings of freedom.”

“Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.”

“Every storm runs out of rain.”

“Hate: It has caused a lot of problems in the world but has not solved one yet.”

“You may shoot me with your words; you may cut me with your eyes; you may kill me with your hatefulness; but still, like air; I’ll rise.”

“The ache for home lives in all of us. The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.”

“You may not control all the events that happen to you but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”

“It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.”

“We allow our ignorance to prevail upon us and make us think we can survive alone, alone in patches, alone in groups, alone in races, even alone in genders.”

“I learned a long time ago, the wisest thing I can do is be on my own side.”

“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.”

“I love to see a young girl go out and grab the world by the lapels. Life’s a bitch. You’ve got to go out and kick ass.”

“If you’re always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.”

“When you know you are of worth — not asking it but knowing it — you walk into a room with a particular power.”

“If you’re going to live, leave a legacy. Make a mark on the world that can’t be erased.”

“The idea of overcoming is always fascinating to me. It’s fascinating because few of us realize how much energy we have expended just to be here today. I don’t think we give ourselves enough credit for the overcoming.”

“I sustain myself with the love of family.”

“Hoping for the best, prepared for the worst, and unsurprised by anything in between.”

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

“Develop enough courage so that you can stand up for yourself and then stand up for somebody else.”

“You should be angry. You must not be bitter. Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. It doesn’t do anything to the object of its displeasure. So use that anger. You write it. You paint it. You dance it. You march it. You vote it…”

“I am a Woman Phenomenally. Phenomenal Woman, that’s me.”

He Could Not Comb His Own Hair Without Help

After five and a half years of captivity and horrendous torture in North Vietnam, John McCain finally came home. His body was broken, but not his spirit. McCain was left permanently disabled and was unable to raise his arms above his shoulders.

And yet, according to “President” Trump, John McCain was a bogus war hero, and he made a mockery of his years of torture and captivity: “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”

Mr. McCain said nothing in response. How many people would have been able to do that?

I wonder how long Trump would have lasted as a prisoner of war in Hanoi?

Oh wait, he was a draft dodger and received five deferments during the Vietnam War—four for education and one for bad feet. Aw, poor Trump had bone spurs.

John McCain endured among other unimaginable torture: Bayoneted in the left ankle and groin, a broken shoulder as a result of a rifle butt, suspended by ropes with his broken arms behind him, two years in solitary confinement in a cell infested with roaches and rats, frequent beatings, and tortured with cables.

Someone had to help him comb his hair.

Upon reading those words in the New York Times today, my heart was heavy.

Not only because we lost a true American hero, who loved his country, but also because we are left with a germaphobic, self-absorbed, self-concerned tyrant, who copped five draft deferments and has yet to visit the thousands of American soldiers on the front lines in Afghanistan or Iraq.

Trump is not invited to McCain’s funeral, and I’m happy about that. Not that he would have attended, because he’s a coward.

I regret not having mailed the letter I wrote to Mr. McCain following Trump’s searing put- down of him and amidst the booing of McCain at Trump rallies.

In part here is what it said:

Dear Senator McCain,

I am so sorry that Donald Trump made a joke about your time in captivity because if not for your sacrifice, I might not be free.

And thank you for answering the call to defend our country’s freedom, and for putting America before yourself and for your undying patriotism.

Finally, thank you for defending the Constitution, which allows me to be able to write this letter to you at all.

And most importantly, I needed to tell you that despite Trump and his booing followers, most Americans are filled with fiery patriotism and consider you a true American hero.

Here are some of my favorite quotes by the late great John McCain:

“We are Americans first, Americans last, Americans always.”

“I will not take the low road to the highest office in this land. I want the presidency in the best way, not the worst way.”

“I don’t mind a good fight. For reasons known only to God, I’ve had quite a few tough ones in my life. But I learned an important lesson along the way: In the end, it matters less that you can fight. What you fight for is the real test.”

“I fell in love with my country when I was a prisoner in someone else’s. I loved it for its decency, for its faith in the wisdom, justice, and goodness of its people. I loved it because it was not just a place but an idea, a cause worth fighting for. I was never the same again; I wasn’t my own man anymore; I was my country’s.”