Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Look Again

I offer a poem today.

Maya Angelou's poem, "Still I Rise," has been a source of strength for me for years--ever since I first read it. I have had the great blessed privilege of seeing her speak; she radiates a gracefulness and graciousness that I have yet to see in any other human being.

I have shared this poem with many men and women: sometimes when I think they would like some inspiration and rejuvenation, sometimes when I want to share with them something beautiful, sometimes just because I like to give things to people for no reason at all, save the pleasure of giving freely.

This afternoon this poem wraps itself around my heart and carries me through pain no one should ever have inflicted upon them, with our without intention.

Still I Rise by Maya Angelou

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own back yard.

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.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.


There are so many people in this world who do not know me. So many people who take one look at me and come to their own conclusion about the kind of person I am. People who interact with me and do not see what is in my heart, what my intention is--and because they never ask, they too do not know me. Other people have encountered one version of my Self and believe that morsel of information is all they need to know. Some people have seen a slightly fuller form of me, and with that they decide whether they want to know more or not. Most do not brave the waters and do not learn more. A few people of great strength of character and heart look deeper. They are the artists who walk around and around the model before they decide how they can best understand and represent what they see. They are the people who see the movie first and then read the book because they suspect there is more to it.

Those who want to know more--about anything in the world really--are few. Few. Very few. Few and far between. Many times they behave in the same fashion with most of the gifts this world has to offer; they know only the headlines or (worse?) the late night talk show hosts' jokes about current events, they know only the location of their state within the country, without a care as to this country's interaction with the rest of the world. I don't know if they just don't care or just don't have the capacity to go any further in their lives. They are not necessarily uneducated or even foolish or stupid.

I suppose they are just satisfied with the world at a glance.

I suppose what they see is all they need, if it were otherwise would not hunger and yearning drive them to dig for more?

I cannot claim to deeply examine all that I encounter. I am particularly bad about delving into science and ancient history, especially if I do not see a clear connection with those subjects to the current experience of life. But anything with words captures my deeper interest, things of beauty... lots of things. Especially people.

I always want to understand people. I want to know what drives them. What are their interpretations of their observations? What do they love? What do they hate? What do they see if they look at the model from another angle--are they even willing to look more than once. Why? Why not? I love to know people.

Yet as much as I love people. As much as I am curious about their existence. As much as I want to help them with anything they could possibly need. As much as I believe Martin Luther's idea that we are all little Jesuses and should act accordingly--bearing our cross and also gracefully giving and loving our fellow human beings. As much as I love... it does not work.

I don't know whether this rather mundane and unspecific ramble makes any sense at all.

What I do know is that I always rise. All those people who come to their conclusions about me at their own convenience and leisure will never know me. I guess that's OK. I know me.

I know I am strong, confident and hopeful. I know I love my sense of generosity, grace and goodness. I know I love me. Because I love myself (otherwise known as self-esteem, I do believe), I also know that I am deeply flawed, though perhaps not too much more than the average mere human being. (We aren't
actually miniature Christs after all.) Perhaps my awareness of these flaws magnifies them--for me (the model) and the viewer. Another shame and blessing, is it not? I know I am not perfect and I have finally given up trying to become perfect so as to please other people and hopefully even myself.

My house is cluttered. I spend most of my day writing, painting, listening to music and reading. Lots of time thinking. Maybe too much time thinking. But this person is who I am. I love this person. No one else will love this person as much as I must love this person. No one else is going to create this person or help me grow or even necessarily be with me forever.

Yes, sometimes this person gets on my nerves and I just want to kick her to the curb. But for the most part I try to work through those moments and create a better version of my Self.

A lot of people have passed through this life of mine. Most of them do not stay very long, for a variety of reasons. Some of them do stay connected and maintain our relationship, even if they move far, far away.

All I ever truly want from people is total honesty--even if they think what they are going to say might hurt me.

No one else gets to decide what will hurt me, whether I will suffer or not, how I will respond to a stimulus. It's like when I try to protect Justin because I do not want his amputated foot to hurt; he wants to make his own decisions about how to take care of his body.

I think perhaps everyone in the whole world wants the opportunity to have that independence. People just want the freedom to live as they wish to live.

I believe we all have a better chance at creating healthy lives for ourselves if we gather as much information as possible.

So it does not really matter what other people's perception of me might be.

I know that I am a person full of wonder, full of beauty, full of grace, full of love and tenderness and generosity and loyalty. I know I am a person who works to become a better version of myself. Constantly.

Knowing this Me, how can I do anything but act with strength, confidence and hope? How can I do anything but love this person and treat her with respect and dignity?

I love who I am.

Some people will never know any of the words in that sentence
I love who I am about me or about themselves or anyone else. A lot of people probably do not even care to know anything at all. It's OK though. I do not need other people to know that much of me.

I love who I am.

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise. . . .


. . . Did you want to see me broke?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries? . . .

. . . . 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. . . .

. . . Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard . . .

. . . Out of the huts of histories shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise . . .

. . . Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a day break that's wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave
I rise
I rise
I rise

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