Thursday, January 27, 2011


I DVRd an interview-type show on the new Oprah channel a few days ago. Maya Angelou was the honored guest last week; I finally got a chance to watch it yesterday. I've read a few of her poems, and until yesterday I appreciated her work from a distance, but this special captured her strength and beauty as a person so well that I now respect Maya Angelou on an entirely different level.

She's more than familiar with suffering. But she doesn't present herself as a victim, and she doesn't just discuss how she's overcome the difficulties she's experienced (from being raped at age 7, to being mute until age 6 and undergoing emotional abuse because of it). Her way of communicating reflects the kind of strength that I lack. She is a wise woman, and I'm glad I got to hear her speak--even if it was behind a television screen.

Toward the end of the show, she shared a quote that I hadn't heard before, and then she went on to explain the truth behind it. This is how it's re-quoted on this site:
"If a human being dreams a great dream, dares to love somebody; if a human being dares to be Martin King, or Mahatma Gandhi, or Mother Theresa, or Malcolm X; if a human being dares to be bigger than the condition into which she or he was born—it means so can you. And so you can try to stretch, stretch, stretch yourself so you can internalize, 'Homo sum, humani nil a me alienum puto. I am a human being, nothing human can be alien to me.' That's one thing I'm learning." — Dr. Maya Angelou
The part that wasn't included on the site resonated with me most. When she first shared the quote, "I am a human being, nothing human can be alien to me," she brought up some of the worst of us. Those who have committed the most heinous crimes, including "the bigot and the batterer". We refer to those crimes as "inhuman". The irony is, the crimes were committed by a human. She explained that we all have the potential to commit those wrongs, because we are all human. Considering we're all sinners, that's not a difficult concept to grasp mentally. Still, when I heard the quote I felt guilty because I knew that in my heart I often fail. The playing field is level, though. It's discouraging to hear, and to believe that the person on death row is our spiritual twin brother...

But then she brought up another truth. Mother Theresa is also our sister. Inspired by the love of God in her heart, she shared so much of herself with those in need and impacted all of us, directly and indirectly.

The beauty in the quote is what else it reveals: we have a choice! We are capable of so much evil, and so much good. Having God in our lives liberates us--that's what the apostles in the Bible say; on the show, Maya Angelou also said many times that "love liberates". I can't ignore this key verse, either "Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love" (1 John 4:8). The two are one in the same. So it makes sense that if we are lacking Love we are limited in our choices, and how we behave.

I guess I can say that I grasp a bit more how understanding God's love truly liberates us; we're able to rise above ourselves, or the innate evil in us (as discouraging as that word is), and love like he loved us. After all, isn't that essentially what the true peacemakers, from Mother Theresa to Ghandi, were able to do?


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