A Great Tree Fell



It seems only fitting that I spent some of yesterday saying good-bye to a phenomenal woman, Maya Angelou, as she sang her last song on earth before flying freely into other worlds while I am in the heat of trying to raise my own phenomenal woman. My girl and I are facing some hard times, some sort of predictable challenges that come with being a young woman but with a bent that is worrisome to me. Out of respect for Lucy, I will not share specific details as the content isn't as important as the journey.

And so it is a blessing to see Maya's name scroll through my Facebook feed along with some her most telling and provocative and empowering quotes. If there is one thing that we can take from Dr. Angelou's journey, it is that she survived horror and lived well and richly and deeply and with so much zest and passion that she was wrung dry- she had nothing left to take on her journey but a warm and juicy spirit that will live on and inspire generations to come. 


I am soaking up so many of her words so that I can become them and use them and impress them into my own girl- one who feels vulnerable and fledgling and about as opposite as phenomenal as a person can feel. Becoming a woman is serious and tough business. I temporarily forgot that part. I forgot how that transformation from carefree girl to impressionable young woman is full of torment and self-doubt and insecurity. A girl you once thought of as invincible and secure becomes, seemingly overnight, uncertain, scared, driven by fears they can find hard to name. If I force myself back to her age, I feel glimpses of that. My skin tingles and my heart races just a bit with that feeling that the world has me under their magnifying glass. It is so hard to understand in these moments that somehow we go willingly without even realizing we have a choice.


And that is what I am trying to teach her now. She has a choice to live under this magnifying glass that only promotes ugly fear or step out into the sun of who she already is- smart, funny, kind, determined, and perfect just as she is. 


It's sort of crazy- this wild rumpus of parenting. You listen and you talk, you allow and you restrict, you shelter and you set free and you love with abandon and fierceness and still, none of these things earns anyone a free pass.  


And so I am calling on my tribe and diving into Maya's words and I am studying this quote from her book Wouldn't Take Nothin' From My Journey Now hoping it will sustain me.


“Each of us has the right and the responsibility to assess the roads which lie ahead, and those over which we have traveled, and if the future road looms ominous or unpromising, and the roads back uninviting, then we need to gather our resolve and, carrying only the necessary baggage, step off that road into another direction. If the new choice is also unpalatable, without embarrassment, we must be ready to change that as well.” 

With my girl we are discussing the road that got her to this place she is in and what path she wants to follow. Of course I would be lying if I didn't also admit I am doing some of my own self-examination. This journey with Lucy is all about her and yet, if I don't make it also about me then what sort of gift will I receive? I am open to the lessons this difficult road will offer me. And there is a part of me feeling grateful for the act of discovery we are about to make together. I am not dumb; we will leave with different lessons and mine will not be hers. But we are learning in tandem and I would much rather it be together than her huddled alone against the world with nothing but an ipod and some half-baked ideas of what the world seems to require of young women. She will learn on my watch from the masters like Maya Angelou and the tribal force of good women I have built for just this occasion- strong aunts and mothers and friends and caring counselors and physicians and athletes and teachers and dancers and artists and poets and whomever else it takes to show her the many strong faces and voices of women which proudly proclaim, "This is what a woman is and you already have what it takes and we will guide you there."

Maya Angelou wrote a beautiful poem called "When A Great Tree Falls." We can make a strong case for Maya being one of those great trees. Her words and wisdom and life are simply irreplaceable. The molecules in our matter are better because of who she was on this earth.  And I am clinging to these words, 


"And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly.  Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
They existed.  They existed.
We can be.  Be and be
better.  For they existed.


A great tree fell yesterday, and now I must water my own little sapling currently planted in the rich soil Maya Angelou left behind. Lucy is reaching toward the sun eager yet scared to become something larger than herself not knowing she already is. But there is comfort in knowing I am better because Maya Angelou existed. Because of her, I am a better person and a better mom and Lucy will be better because Maya left her strong clear voice inside me that will coach and prod and demand and encourage me to keep at it, to work my tribe, to chant my encouragement, to gather the force of love so that everywhere she looks, there is nothing but pure light and grace and strength. 

Being a phenomenal woman is no easy task, and raising one is even harder.


But I've got this because there is no other way. Holding up my girl is holding up our girls the way Maya held up every woman in her path. 


Her gifts are now mine and I will use them as best I can.




Real life is how you live with uncertainty.

Big Man got a job with Mayo Rochester and we don't have to move! It is, in fact, a dream job where he will teach and have a private practice that does not wish for you to herd people through like cattle. Their standard appointment times are 25 minutes long and they are curious about what you are curious about. Wow! This seems crazy to us having lived for a long time in a place that didn't honor questions as much as compliance and production. Had you asked me five months ago what kind of job Big Man would be taking, a Mayo family practice job is not it. He'd long ago buried his dreams of teaching knowing it wasn't possible in our small town. Not a single job offered this except for Mayo.

Jerry Hyler, a touchstone

When you are young, the world before you is large and wide and open to all possibilities. You may only look back now and then searching for a touchstone, like an old friend or a special teacher. Youth prevents you from imagining that things do change and people (even YOU!) get older. It can take something out of the ordinary, an accident or a sobering bit of news to make you realize, "Huh? Oh, right. People get sick. They age. They face great hardships. That mainstay in my rear view mirror might not always be there."

A Whisper

The sappy cards and flowers and pretty boxes of chocolate in every store I see mock how I feel on this particular Mother's Day. Over 234 girls were stolen from a place that was supposed to be a safe haven, a place where girls could learn in order to create a better life for themselves and their families. I just don't know how to think about this. All I can think of is a moment I had a few nights ago with my own daughter.