The Phenomenal Woman

blogpic_madyThe world mourns the loss of a major inspiration: Maya Angelou. With a passion for both the written word and civil rights, Angelou lived a full 86 years being both a witness to and pioneer of history. Among her many accomplishments, she shares her honest experience of the Jim Crow South in her 1969 book “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” which garnered her a nomination for the National Book Award in 1970, and she was the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010.

The biggest reason Dr. Angelou is such an inspiration is her amazing resilience. She chose the kind of life she would lead—rather than allowing bad circumstances in her early life to define her. She refused to allow her experiences of being abandoned by her parents, being raped by her mother’s boyfriend and living as a homeless teen mom to stop her from becoming the great force of life she would later become.

Dr. Angelou didn’t let the horrors of living in a Jim Crow South silence her from telling the harsh realities of her childhood, and in doing so assured that others would recognize the wrongs of the past and work toward a better future. Instead of letting her past drag her down, Dr. Angelou learned six languages, earned 30 honorary degrees and wrote one of the most important autobiographies of the 20th century.

Dr. Angelou can teach us a lot about what it means to live and how important it is to make a difference for others, but she can also teach us a lot about seniors. Too often, the older population is written off and sometimes even viewed as a burden on society. We can forget that older adults are first-hand witnesses to decades of history and can teach us a lot about what it means as a society and an individual to grow into who we are meant to be.

Maya Angelou is one of the most quoted authors in recent times, and much of what she said has to do with making a meaningful impact on others and being your best self. These are more than just lovely quotes to be printed on a refrigerator magnet, they are realizations that come from true wisdom—the kind of wisdom that only comes from those who have lived through worlds of experiences. All seniors have their own wisdom that comes from living a long life and experiencing so much history. We can learn a lot from taking a moment to pause and really listen to a senior’s life story and advice.

Life is a precious thing, but it is also short. As we take the time to celebrate Dr. Angelou’s life and reflect on her passing, we should remember this fact. Today is the day you should call your grandparents and ask for their stories. Today is the day to visit a senior living community and hear living historical accounts of the past few decades. You could learn a lot about not only history, but yourself. Maya Angelou is a wonderful example of the inspiration we can draw from many seniors.

Learn more about Maya Angelou’s life and influence on CNN and The New York Times.

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