Crossing paths with Maya Angelou was unforgettable


I’m saddened to hear of the death of poet, singer, activist, cultural icon Maya Angelou.

Our paths crossed once and it is something I shall never forget.

I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing her by phone ahead of a speech she was delivering at Western.

Her textured voice was heard in our home often as she was in one of my kids’ favourite movies, Elmo Saves Christmas.

When I told her my children loved that movie, she asked to meet me at Western.

There she presented me with a book for my boys that she wrote, titled Life Doesn’t Frighten Me.

Inside the cover of the book, in black marker in her handwriting was: “Aidan & Nolan, Joy! Maya Angelou, Oct. 21, 2011. Greetings, Mrs. Rumleski”

The date she signed it was the day my father died.

She was so wise and had the ability to always say the right thing at the right time.

She told me she loved Canada, calling it “hallowed.”

“Canada has the distinct position of having been a haven. (The slaves) wrote about Canada by calling it Canaan. I’m going to cross over into Canaan land,” she said about coming to Canada for her speech.

Her wisdom came from living so long on Earth. “I’m 83 and I know a lot of stuff and (from) some of it I’ve been able to extract some truth,” she told me.

“Some of that came from the teaching of my grandmother, my father’s mother. I was very much against the idea of complaining about anything. She said, ‘If you want something changed, do everything you can to change it. If you find you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.”

She spent her life fighting prejudice.

“I do want to change the ignorance that gives life to racism and sexism and agism. I just want to see those isms obliterated so that we can live fully, each one of us,” she said, and borrowing a phrase from her friend Oprah Winfrey, “And live our best lives.”

Her message to all of us was to live our best lives and the world will be a better place. That’s exactly what the three-time Grammy Award winner and Pulitzer Prize honoree did  in all the fields to which she contributed.


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