A collection of short essays and anecdotes, poems and advise from this celebrated poet, author, singer, director and teacher, Letter to my Daughter by Maya Angelou is everything she would say to the daughter she never had, and as a result, to all the daughters in this world. I am grateful for her candid honesty and the wisdom she offers to anyone who will listen.
Growing up in segregation and Southern humiliation, it is heartbreaking to read of how devalued she felt as a child and the ways in which Northern racism still existed, albeit more insidiously. More than anything, Letter to my Daughter portrays amazing models of female leadership and strength in Maya Angelou, her mother Vivien and her grandmother. I hope every girl is fortunate enough to have strong female role models in their life, whether real or fictional, in real life or someone they have only read of. I hope everyone has someone to model resilience, strength, gratitude and love.
I love very freely and easily and I believe I can be strong and courageous but resilience in the face of a threat or disaster, and gratitude for the miracle of simply being alive are some things I do struggle with. Reading about women of colour creating hope, despite the odds, and building futures for themselves, for their children, is both empowering and also intimidating. They are big shoes to fill and leave a legacy of pain in their wake. Yet we can only hope to take on the challenge and build better futures for ourselves so our daughters may not have the same struggles. They will have struggles of their own I’m sure, but if I can help it – my daughter will not face the same struggles I had or my mother had.
Reading these honest heartfelt memoirs of Oprah and Maya Angelou, there have been many times when I have felt a lump in my throat at the subtleties of human compassion and the varying degrees of feelings we experience as humans. There were things that I have felt in my short life that I have thought about but never felt compelled to enunciate or talk about and it is confronting and liberating to read of these strong famous women speak of these feelings so articulately and feel that mirroring. That I too have felt that. That it is okay to feel that and recognise these feelings.
Perhaps what is most liberating in voicing these thoughts out loud is that recognition of ourselves we see in the mirroring in another. In recognising a part of ourselves in someone else, we accept our common humanity, and define ourselves through the eyes of the other. We learn ways to define and confront our view of ourselves through that ‘Other’ lens, and when it so accurately mirrors what we have thought and felt but were not able to vocalise, the realisation of this common human experience and our unity, is touchingly poignant.
Angelou talks of loss of a loved one and what she asks herself as she is dealing with her grief:
What legacy was left which can help me in the art of living a good life?
Did I learn to be kinder,
To be more patient
And more generous
More ready to laugh,
And more easy to accept honest tears?
If I accept those legacies of my departed beloveds, I am able to say, Thank you to them for their love and Thank you to God for their lives.
I read this passage quickly and didn’t at first realise it was about losing a loved one. Which made it all the more applicable to every aspect of our lives. I believe it’s something we can ask ourselves all the time. Am I learning, to be more patient with others, am I learning to be kinder, more tolerant and thoughtful.
I am glad that I am reading this now, and not years later. I am glad that while these are qualities that take a life time to learn and keep trying to hone and perfect, that I have the opportunity to read of strong women who have modelled this to others, and as young as I am, I have the opportunity to try and learn them now.
I do not want to wait for years of life experience to teach me by accident, what I could be trying to actively learn on purpose.