I didn’t know Maya Angelou personally, but through her writing, her quotes that I loved and saved like cherished heirlooms, I felt like I knew her.
I don’t think she was ever heralded as being a leader of girl power, but in my mind, she was. I like to think though, that like me, she stood not just for girl power, but for the power of humanity, through that undeniable belief that we all are connected.
So many of her quotes resonated with my soul.
“You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them” helped me get through many a challenging circumstance.
“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time” has helped me more in hindsight than in foresight, but revealed to me evident truths.
“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” – oh, to thrive. What a wonderful status to achieve. When a baby is thriving, it means it is doing well.
To thrive with humor, compassion and style, well, I can’t think of anything better.
But my favorite Maya Angelou quote and one of my all-time favorite quotes, period, has to be: “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.”
How simple yet true those words were. The words or actions may not accurately represent the person’s true meaning, but our soul knows when we are loved and safe.
It was a given her life had not been easy, but she had, as her words said, thrived.
She stood strong and pressed on, determined to not give up. She called herself a phenomenal woman and no one disputed that fact. She was. Her words guided me to think of the phenomenal woman I wanted to become and the women in my life who were by definition, phenomenal.
To become a phenomenal woman, I undoubtedly will have to channel my grandmother and mother. Both phenomenal, incredible women in different ways.
I know I am much like my grandmother, full of vinegar and salt, which is tempered by the gentle honey from Mama, who urges me to try nice first and think always of others. She reminds me that even if I have little, I still have something I can share.
Granny never failed to stand up for herself and that is something I used to be so much better at doing. That fearlessness in being able to speak her mind was warrior fierce and phenomenal.
Mama has always taught me to stand up for those who can’t defend themselves. Being silent while others are victimized carries its own shame, she has said.
“Sometimes, you may be the only voice they have.” Mama’s other phenomenal strength undoubtedly has to do with loving everyone while judging no one.
I think of my Aunt Mary who always made whoever she was talking to feel like the most special person in the world. She sought everyone out, grabbing them in a warm embrace and urging them to tell her everything – and she meant everything – that was going on in their life.
If you told her you had an interest in something, you can bet the next time she saw you, she had something related to it for you – an article, a picture, a trinket she had found. She was the storyteller and author of our family and when I told her I loved to write as a little girl, she would sit with me and listen to my stories as long as it took to tell them. Her ability to love and make people feel so extra special made her an incredible, phenomenal woman.
So many fellow women that have been in my life, offering their wisdom, being mentors, being that mother/sister/friend as Oprah called her mentor, that have made sure I remembered who I am and more importantly, who I was going to be. I have remembered above all, the way these women made me feel. Empowered, embraced, loved and supported. Maybe even a little bit like a warrior who could do anything, even when my spirit was weary and tired, they pushed me forward. Leaving pieces of themselves, woven into the tapestry of my spirit that make me who I am and the person, that phenomenal woman, I am hoping to be.
May we all remember that phenomenal feeling, and pass it on.
I’ve been called bossy before. When I was younger, I think there were more comparisons to Lucy from “Peanuts” than to any fairy tale princesses or damsels in distress. Bossy, assertive, stood up for myself – those are not traits a girl is supposed to possess.
If I had been a boy, someone would have declared me to be the future president of the United States.
But no, I was a girl – and a girl should not exhibit any sign of bossiness.
“She’s a BLT,” I heard someone comment once. Think it was a friend of my grandfathers who had overheard my sassy demands.
This BLT had nothing to do with bacon.
Instead, it stood for “Bossy Little Thing.”
My grandfather thought that was funny; he knew I was bossy and a pint sized task masker. I had asked him once for a raise and he had refused, saying my only responsibility was writing up his invoices by hand – a job he had taught me to do since I was five.
I went on strike, complete with picket line and made him enter his own home by the back door.
“Bossy” did not sound as positive when it was used to describe a little girl wearing black patent leather Mary Janes and white socks to her knees. It was meant to be a negative term and one that would make me shirk away from the actions that made me seem bossy. It didn’t really stop me.
When I got older, that bossy was replaced with another “b” word. Still didn’t stop me – I just figured I was irritating the right folks.
Cole befriended a little girl when he was in day care. They became the best of friends.
“What do you like about her?” I asked my then 3-year-old son.
“She reminds me of you,” he had said.
Oh, how sweet, I thought.
“How does she remind you of me?”
“She’s bossy,” he answered simply.
He meant no mal intent by his statement. He was stating a fact: She was a BLT, too.
After I got to know the little girl, I realized how wonderful it was that here was this tiny person, two feet tall so aware of the innate power she held and wasn’t afraid to use it.
No one had yet had the foolishness to tell her to not be bossy, that “girls did not act that way.”
No one had told her that, so she wielded her bossy with a fierceness. I was thoroughly impressed.
“She’s going to be the first female president,” I told her mother one day.
“You think so?” she asked, a smile beaming from ear to ear.
“Heck yeah,” I replied earnestly. “I’d vote for her now!”
That little girl remains confident, self-assured and assertive – not ‘bossy.’
I teased a friend of mine one day, calling her my “BLT.”
I told Cole that was her new nickname. He thought on this for a second, nodding slowly as he stewed this over in his brain. He had never heard me say this before unless it was in reference to a sandwich, which was made with turkey bacon of course.
Of course, his first concern was if this involved bacon. I assured him it did not as I explained the meaning behind the acronym.
“She’s spunky and has chutzpah – it suits her! I like it!”
It does suit her. She is spunky, she’s assertive, can run circles around anyone and I think she is fabulous – so why in the world would anybody think calling a female ‘bossy’ is such a bad way to describe us?
If a woman shows strength and intelligence, she’s…well, she’s a lot of bad, horrible words. Words I have been called before by both sexes. It hurt worse when it came from my own gender than it did when it came from a man. Why?
Because even when we are strong, intelligent, assertive and all those power words, we are still supposed to be the nurturing ones and should understand that about our fellow females.
“Who’s the better leader, Mama?” Cole asked me recently. “Boys or girls? There’s a debate going on at school and I wasn’t sure who would win.”
I sighed. It had nothing to do with gender. This argument had been going on for decades. Who’s smarter, who’s stronger, who’s this and who’s that.
“Cole, it completely depends on the individual,” was my answer. “Has nothing to do with boy or girl. You know that.”
He nodded, deep in thought.
“I don’t know why they are worried about it – some folks say it should be a guy leader, but I think hey, let’s give a girl a chance, you know? I mean, what if, one day, that stuff didn’t matter,” he said, thinking aloud. “You know, Mama? What if one day, no one said ‘she’s a girl, so she shouldn’t try out for that?’ because really, it shouldn’t matter. Don’t you agree?”
And one day, maybe that little thing like gender won’t matter and being a bossy little thing will be a point of pride.