Monday, April 10, 2006

"Most People Don't Grow Up. Most people age."

-Maya Angelou

I am reading A Wealth of Wisdom: Legendary African American Elders Speak. It is, as the book says, "a collection of stories, experiences, and observations of more than fifty African Americans, ages seventy and over." Life stories and lessons learned.

One of the people interviewed for the book was Maya Angelou, (again quoting the book), "Poet, educator, historian, best-selling author, actress, playwright, civil rights activist, producer, director." Her story is about the time she was writing her book, Gather Together In My Name. Gather Together is the second volume she wrote about her life and in it she tells how she was a prostitute at the age of eighteen. She was worried how this information would affect her family but knew she had to write about it because it was the truth. It was part of her life.

After the book came out she was on a book signing tour in Cleveland when this happened:

The line was long, and suddenly there were two hands, black, young hands, with false fingernails. I followed the hands out: they led to false hair, lots of it, and to a young face, about eighteen, with false eyelashes.

It was ten o'clock in the morning.

She was a young street prostitute. She had heard me on television. She leaned over. She said, "You give me hope."

Later in the interview Ms. Angelou goes on to say:

Most people don't grow up. Most people age. They find parking spaces, honor their credit cards, get married, have children, and call that maturity, What that is, is aging.

But to grow up, to take responsibility for the time you take up and the space you occupy, to honor every living person for his or her humanity, that is to grow up.

I know what I've done. I mean, I've done it.

I'm on the board of lots of places, lots of universities. I teach all over the world and speak a lot of languages. But it's imperative that we not stand so upon the laurels. If you're firmly rooted in the ground, your not so easily pushed over.

This got me thinking about growing up and aging. I remember a time when I was embarrassed and ashamed by some of the stupid decisions I make and the stupid things I did when I was younger. My biggest fear for a time was running into someone who knew at the time I did these things. I was afraid they would try to shame me too. Now it doesn't matter whether they would try to shame me or not because I can no longer be shamed. I have aged enough to know that I am no longer the person I used to be. And grown up enough to understand that the person I used to be is the main reason why I am the person I am today. The person I am today is a person I like for the most part. What was it someone said? You have to remember who you were to get to who you are. Or did I just make that up?

As Ms. Angelou said, take responsibility for your life is what makes you a grown up. Denying who you were is denying your own humanity. And, as Ms. Angelou's story shows, just by being truthful about your own life you may give someone else hope. By beginning truthful, as she also said, "you're firmly rooted in the ground, your not so easily pushed over.

(No deep philosophical discussion on my part today, just mulling over something I read.)

No comments: