We are more than the sum of our parts. This paraphrase of Aristotle* sums me up, especially given the many broken parts that come with being a spoonie. Dr. Maya Angelou beautifully embodied this concept that speaks of not being limited by our limits nor defeated by our defeats. The desire to be more and the need to overcome are universal, they encapsulate what it is to be human – as did Maya, in word and example. She refused to be limited to her parts, from the parts of her born of horror as well as hope to the parts she played in helping us face our horrors and find our own hope.
“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”
— Maya Angelou
The difficult and ground-breaking parts she played in her own life, including teen mother and cable car conductor, along with the world-changing parts she played in our lives, through the arts and activism, are immortalized in her writing and the part it will continue to play in the human experience. By sharing her own experiences, with as much honesty as hope, Maya Angelou exemplified for all of us the ability to become more than the sum of our experience. Through her shared parts and experiences, she not only exalted our individual humanity but expressed our shared human condition.
Maya was living proof that our stars aren’t fixed and our lives aren’t dictated. Our circumstances aren’t always in our control but what we become within, beyond, and despite those circumstances is. Whatever we’re in the process of overcoming, whether it haunts us like the childhood trauma she endured or overtakes our lives like the chronic illness/es I’m fighting, when we remember that we’re all struggling – that we’re all fighting something – we realize that we’re not fighting alone.
“You may not control all the events that happen to you,
but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”
— Maya Angelou, Letter to My Daughter
She understood, and taught by example, that our individual insights reveal universal truths. My experience is utterly unique yet it has elements that connect to yours, and we can learn from each other, and we are the same; we are human and, in that shared humanity, there is hope. Maya survived unthinkable struggles by choosing to thrive, overcame hardship by allowing it to fuel her, fought prejudice by becoming a loving activist, and – in perhaps her most compassionate act of all – wrote it all down for us.
“…I’ve learned that making a ‘living’ is not the same thing as making a ‘life.’
I’ve learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance.
I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands;
you need to be able to throw something back.
I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with an open heart,
I usually make the right decision.
I’ve learned that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be one.
I’ve learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone;
people love a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back.
I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn. 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.”
— Maya Angelou, I’ve Learned
Maya Angelou makes us feel hope. She said, “I would like to be known as an intelligent woman, a courageous woman, a loving woman, a woman who teaches by being.” Not only will she always be known as intelligent, courageous, and loving but her intelligence, courage, and love taught us that we can be too; she taught us by being true to herself, she taught us to be our true selves. When we heed her heart, we learn that we’re enough.. “You alone are enough, you have nothing to prove to anybody.” May our marvelous muse rest in peace for, through her, we have indeed been Touched by an Angel:
“…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, Touched by an Angel
Her “mission in life was not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” In so doing, she taught us how. Maya’s our angel now, an angel of hope who lives on in her poetic legacy, encouraging us to live and love fully in turn. *“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” ― Aristotle