Monday, February 28, 2011

The Heart of This Woman

Writing can lead to some interesting places and people.   I never dreamed I’d be speaking at the N.C. Women Writers’ Conference in Winston-Salem one year, where I met keynoter Maya Angelou, well-known internationally as a poet, best-selling author, historian, musician, theatrical producer, screenplay writer, autobiographer, performer… and the list goes on. 

A bird doesn't sing
because it has an answer,
it sings because
it has a song.
~ Maya Angelou

That morning she owns the auditorium.  She stands and sways like a tall oak tree, solid and deep-rooted in truth.  When she speaks a hush falls over the place.

Here is a woman who exudes confidence, compassion, and grace - without a trace of pretentiousness.   One who radiates wisdom, warmth, courage, and dignity.          

What I learn from her that day I take home with me, integrate into my psyche, employ throughout my days to the best of my ability.

She is among the wisest of contemporary teachers, able to convey the simplest of truths in the most captivating fashion while fully engaging the imagination.   

 Lessons Learned

Maya Angelou’s language of freedom is universal and speaks to every human heart.   We are all slaves of the system - in greater or lesser degrees – and programmed to equate self-worth with having learned to jump through all the right hoops at someone else’s command.         

Some are slaves to perpetual victimhood and remain stuck in their whining and self-wallowing, which Maya calls “… just unbecoming.”

Others are slaves to their own haughtiness and hubris, and have learned to turn up their nose at those who by worldly standards might be less than successful or less than attractive.

The Beauty of  a Smile

She tells the story of being in a grocery store and seeing someone whom she knows has spotted her.  But instead of acknowledging her presence, that person just turns and looks the other way rather than risk eye contact or – God forbid - conversation. 

The woman averts her eyes and pretends to be reading labels on the cans of peaches, treating Maya like a gnat to be brushed away.  But how much trouble would it have been to simply smile and say hello?

How difficult is it to offer a smile and acknowledge the existence of another?  You never know what a difference that simple gesture of kindness might make. 

A smile can lift the gloom from a person’s day and remind them that they are worthy of recognition.  That they are special enough to merit attention.  That they are somebody.  Period.    

From Maya Angelou I learn to smile at everyone, strangers included.  And mean it.  A smile is a form of blessing, pure and simple.       

What writers have made a lasting impact on you?  And why?  


  1. I love the way you write.A smile is certainly a simple thing,and it can be everything to someone who might be down. Maya Angelou is such a personality,a great lady.Blessings jane

  2. What simple but powerfully wise words. A smile and acknowledgement is all it takes. It just doesn't make the other feel good, it also makes us feel great. As to your question...You are one such writer


  3. I love her poetry and quotes. Her wisdom is beautiful yet encourages strength.

  4. How blessed and honored you must have felt to be in such a presence of grace, beauty and compassion.Truly an experience to remember.

  5. Jane, your kind words mean so much – thank you. Check you later.

    Fernando, excellent point: A smile doesn’t just make the recipient feel good; it makes us feel great! Wish I’d thought of writing this before you did :)

    Savira, I love Maya’s poetry and quotes too. Her words do have such depth and wisdom.

    Ms Bibi, indeed I was blessed and honored to be in this noble woman’s presence. She has suffered much, but overcome all the more… and has such an aura of grace about her too.

  6. What an amazing woman to meet! She is wise. A smile does mean the world to many. :-)

  7. I am currently and will eternally be on a Rumi kick, as that man's thoughts speak my heart so clearly. Emerson & William Butler Yeats are two others that can stop my breath w/ the beauty of their words. Samuel Clemens is yet another. There's also Charles Schulz and A.A. Milne (Winnie the Pooh), and Dr. Seuss for very powerful, gentle wisdom of the delightfully whimsical variety. These names just scratch the surface of my list of people whose writing impacts me on a regular basis. I'll stop there, though, because otherwise, this comment would require its own postal code. :)



  8. She is an amazing person and one I have admired for some time. Thanks for sharing this wonderful experience with us.

  9. Enjoy your post Debra, so true a smile can brighten a day, A brief story of how a strangers smile turned my mood around, One afternoon driving home from an interview, lost in thought, I was coming up to an intersection (which doesn't have any lights or stops) I kinda did one of those glance then move things, as I turn I some how get over to much in the other lane, coming pretty close to invading another drivers space. Shocked and snapping out of my funk, I looked up expecting to see a very angry driver, when all he did was smile and give me an it's ok gesture. Being in a very odd mood, I smiled back, lipped the words sorry. As I turned the corner, I burst into tears. His simple smile was a huge thing for me that day... I know sorry long winded again :P

    Thanks for sharing

  10. "That morning she owns the auditorium. She stands and sways like a tall oak tree, solid and deep-rooted in truth. When she speaks a hush falls over the place. "

    through your words, which emanate from a soul place ... I can feel her and you from here.

  11. A smile is such a simple thing, but can have such a big impact. I'm going to remember that and offer a smile to everyone I see.

  12. @ Rachel, Dawn, Kat, Debbie, Kathleen, and Lisa…

    Rachel, yes, an amazing woman she is. And true: a smile can mean the world to someone who is simply in need of something so basic and free.

    Dawn, Rumi’s writing is timeless. “Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground. “ We like the same writers: Emerson, Yeats, Clemens, Schultz, Milne, and Seuss…. All authors of timeless work!

    Kat, how she has enriched the literary world! Thanks for stopping by; it’s so good to hear from you.

    Debbie, your story is a perfect example of how a smile can affect one’s mood. Thank you for taking the time to share with us how the kind man turned your day around.

    Kathleen, I was afraid to attempt this story for a long time. Afraid I wouldn’t find it within me to do her justice with my writing. Have you ever tried to capture such a moment in time but felt that mere words were inadequate? This was the case when trying to recount my encounter with Maya.

    Lisa, that was the pivotal moment that awakened me, that opened my eyes and helped me rise beyond my self-centered vision, and allowed me to stop and see others with new eyes. Isn’t it true that we often miss the simplest of truths… even when it’s right in front of us?

  13. You were speaking at the NC Mom’s conference? I always knew I should either be a mom – or move to North Carolina :)

    I would love to have heard you speak.

    And smiles – yes – amen – they are blessings.

    God Bless you and all of yours

  14. So true, a smile, so simple, so little effort, but so powerful.
    I don't smile enough, until I remember I've got a lot to smile about. Thanks for the reminder.

  15. I love Maya and her poetry. What a joy to be able to hear her read. You are fortunate to have met her.

  16. I loved this post! I have been affected by many of Maya Angelou's poems in the past...they truly have the capacity to stir the soul. What treasured lessons you learned that morning..thank you for sharing them with the rest of us :)

  17. She's a wonderful person to meet. Her talent is a true source of inspiration....
    And here's something I read from somewhere about smile: "Smiling is infectious, You can catch it like a flu. Someone smiled at me today, And I started smiling too." Debra you made me smile so I started smiling too. ;D Your posts are always beautiful and that is what I love about you.:)

  18. @ Craig, Jim, Brenda, Jessica, and Jorie

    Craig, I spoke at the NC Women Writers’ conference. When I received a letter inviting me to speak I was stunned. But when asked to address the subject, The Struggle to Be, I was taken aback even more. Just the thought of discussing such a nebulous topic… imagine. Anyway, I’ll save this struggle for a future post.

    Jim, every time I see you there’s a charming smile on your face :)

    Brenda, it was a delight meeting her. You’d have enjoyed hearing her speak in person. The creative energy in the room!

    Jessica, my pleasure to share these treasured lessons – lessons I’ll never forget.

    Jorie, "Smiling is infectious, You can catch it like a flu. Someone smiled at me today, And I started smiling too." Love it! Likewise, I love your posts, and you too:)

  19. *gasp* You lucky woman!!!!! She's one of my favorites as well and I'd be thrilled to meet her!!! Congrats! She has so much wonderful advice!!!! Love her! Great post!

  20. My Dad used to call me 'Smiler' when I was growing up and people used to comment 'Hasn't she got a lovely smile?' So I agree entirely that a smile is a blessing. A smile feels like a gift that is freely given.

  21. Debra,

    What a wonderful opportunity it was for you to listen to Dr. Angelou speak! I've included several of her quotes and poems in the romantic devotions I send to my wife each day, and love her work. One of my favorites is :

    “We are weaned from our timidity
    In the flush of love's light
    we dare be brave
    And suddenly we see
    that love costs all we are
    and will ever be.
    Yet it is only love
    which sets us free.” - Maya Angelou

    And you're of course correct, a smile costs us nothing and yet can be the turning point in someone's day. Just think of the dramatic change in perspective it could make if each of us spent a little more time showing simple acts of acknowledgment and kindness to those around us. :-)

    Thank you so much for visiting my blog, and for your kind comments there.

    Have a Blessed Day!

  22. You met her in person? Wow, indeed, Debra. She has such presence and depth of soul. Thank you for sharing. Warm hugs...

  23. @ Pam, Jane, Phather Phil, Corinne…

    Pam, she is a “Phenomenal Woman,” indeed!

    Jane, I can see that lovely smile in the photo of you as a child – sweet!

    Phather Phil, thank you for sharing these outstanding lines by Maya Angelou. Have you sent your wife this one? - In and Out of Time ~ Maya Angelou
    “The sun has come/ The mists have gone/ We see in the distance our long way home /I was always yours to have /You were always mine/ We have loved each other in and out of time…” Beautiful, like the smiles we offer freely to brighten another’s day. ~ Blessings!

    Corinne, I’ve met some interesting people, but not many have impacted me like Maya, who exudes wisdom and grace. ~ Warm hugs back at you!

  24. What an amazing post and what a fantastic person to meet. I love reading your blog - it gives me another reason to smile. Thanks Debra...

  25. Debra,I was searching to read something like,you wrote. Shall read it again and wait for your next post.

  26. And thank you for responding as you always do... Fernando aka A

    Acknowledge others and you will feel goooooood

    Cheers A

  27. @ Kriti, Royal, and Alejandro…

    Kriti, your sweet words make my day :)

    Royal, my head is still reeling from the math lesson on your site :) But I guess a little mental challenge never hurt anyone – right?

    Alejandro, this feels like a Twilight Zone episode today. That was you earlier? Fernando is you? I had no clue.

  28. Hi Debra, what an amazing experience! So true, a smile can brighten up the gloomiest day!

  29. I normally don't adore people I never have met, but she's one of the few I do. Just the sound of her voice is relaxing and comforting. She's a gift. You are lucky to have met her.

  30. Nelieta, I saw your smiling face in that group of Latin scholars. You were as striking then as you are now:)

    Sheila, there are many, many good videos of her poetry out there. I had a hard time deciding which one to share. But none of these compare with meeting her in person!

  31. Beautiful post Debra. I've always admired Maya Angelou. Thank you for sharing this experience...I will smile at everyone too!! :)

  32. In October of last year, I attended the Geraldine Dodge Poetry Festival, a biannual event in NJ. I was just an attendee, but I was thrilled to be in the same building (and auditorium, in some cases) with such poets as Billy Collins, Mark Strand, Amiri Baraka, Rita Dove, and many others. Giants! So I can't imagine what it would be a speaker at the same conference as Maya Angelou! Wow; that's an accomplishment!

  33. Swati, thank you for stopping by and for the encouraging words. Keep a smile :)

    Sweepy Jean, you were among the giants. I’m familiar with the poetry of Mark Strand and Rita Dove. They’ve been around for awhile. But literary world, make way for A D Joyce –next up on the podium! I’m just saying.

  34. Dear Debra, Me again! I just wanted to say thank you so much for your lovely comment this morning...I read your words and truly smiled big and wide!!


    Hugs Jane

  35. Jane the Jester! In the red tights and bells! You give new meaning to "I'll be there with bells on." Now I'll always think of you whenever I hear that phrase:)

  36. Good luck on your speech! I am glad I stopped by and got to celebrate with you today!

  37. I love Maya Angelou! I try to smile at everyone AND connect with their eyes...the person who checks me out at the grocery store, the person on the other side of the counter at the post office, the person at the drive-thru restaurant, the Wal-Mart greeter...each and every one. Each is deserving of said kindness and it also makes my heart sing! Beautifully written, Debra - Sherry

  38. Shanae, thank you for stopping by. Now I know where to find you – and I did in fact stop by and check out your site as well, and will be returning. That speech is a fait accompli :)

    Sherry, this eye contact you speak of, along with the sincere smile to all these folks we meet in public places: the cashier at the grocery store, the postal worker, the person at the drive-through window, the Walmart greeter…. are deserving of a smile. And yes, the act of smiling has a boomerang effect; it makes our heart sing too!

  39. Angelou would be an amazing person to meet. As they say, only a small percentage of what we communicate is through our words. Considering her words, what a wonder it would be to experience all of her powers of communication.

  40. She is such an inspiring person and you are so lucky that you got to see her in person and hear her speak. Great post and such an important reminder - to smile and greet people.

  41. Debra - to thank you for being so inspiring, I have passed on One Lovely Blog Award to you. Please visit this link at my blog to pick it up!

  42. @ Tattytiara, Angii, Taio, thank you all for stopping by. I’ve done likewise and checked out your sites as well. Tattytiara and Taio – hysterical! Angii, I’m a”why not” gal too :)

    @ the spirit that moves me – thank you for One Lovely Blog Award!

    ~ Blessings all

  43. Absolutely love her!! Such wisdom wrapped up in one beautiful woman.
    I have many authors that have influenced me but the first one that popped into my head is the most recent one....Brene Brown. She. Is. Wonderful. Her books about authenticity, courage and perfectionism have changed me in many ways.
    Thank you for becoming a follower and commenting. I'm very new, so this encouraged me.

  44. got your follow back from Locomotion of Expressions! thanks!

  45. My favorite quote, and constant reminder and lesson from her is this (paraphrased):

    "You did the best you could at the time. When you knew better, you did better."

    That sums up every single moment in every single life on this planet. When we know better, we do better. It is a conscious choice to do better, yes, but you have to first know the lesson, recognize it, absorb it and embrace it. Then you move forward, a new person, with new tools and a more clear understanding of yourself and your place in this huge world.

    It's good to visit you again, Debra! <3

    - Dawnie


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