When we come to it
We, this people, on this minuscule and kithless globe
Who reach daily for the bomb, the blade and the dagger
Yet who petition in the dark for tokens of peace
We, this people on this mote of matter
In whose mouths abide cankerous words
Which challenge our very existence
Yet out of those same mouths
Come songs of such exquisite sweetness
That the heart falters in its labor
And the body is quieted into awe
We, this people, on this small and drifting planet
Whose hands can strike with such abandon
That in a twinkling, life is sapped from the living
Yet those same hands can touch with such healing, irresistible tenderness
That the haughty neck is happy to bow
And the proud back is glad to bend
Out of such chaos, of such contradiction
We learn that we are neither devils nor divines
When we come to it
We, this people, on this wayward, floating body
Created on this earth, of this earth
Have the power to fashion for this earth
A climate where every man and every woman
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
Without crippling fear
When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
That is when, and only when
We come to it.
— From “A Brave and Startling Truth” by Maya Angelou, written for and first read at the 50th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations in 1995
Politicos near and far commemorated the death of poet and author Maya Angelou on Wednesday.
From President Barack Obama:
“When her friend Nelson Mandela passed away last year, Maya Angelou wrote that ‘No sun outlasts its sunset, but will rise again, and bring the dawn.’
“Today, Michelle and I join millions around the world in remembering one of the brightest lights of our time – a brilliant writer, a fierce friend, and a truly phenomenal woman. Over the course of her remarkable life, Maya was many things – an author, poet, civil rights activist, playwright, actress, director, composer, singer and dancer. But above all, she was a storyteller – and her greatest stories were true. A childhood of suffering and abuse actually drove her to stop speaking – but the voice she found helped generations of Americans find their rainbow amidst the clouds, and inspired the rest of us to be our best selves. In fact, she inspired my own mother to name my sister Maya.
“Like so many others, Michelle and I will always cherish the time we were privileged to spend with Maya. With a kind word and a strong embrace, she had the ability to remind us that we are all God’s children; that we all have something to offer. And while Maya’s day may be done, we take comfort in knowing that her song will continue, ‘flung up to heaven’ – and we celebrate the dawn that Maya Angelou helped bring.
More, after the jump…
From House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco:
“Dr. Maya Angelou was one of our first and foremost American writers – a phenomenal woman of insight, eloquence, and artistry who gave voice to the rawness and loftiness of our history and our humanity.
“From the struggles of her youth, through her work in the civil rights movement, to her success as an author and her time as Poet Laureate, she embodied personal and artistic courage. She reminded us of the beauty of diversity and the importance of the black experience. She wrote of the cry for freedom, the experience of womanhood. Her story was the story of America.
“Today, we have lost one of the great souls of which Dr. Angelou once wrote. It is a source of pride to the people of San Francisco that she first broke barriers on the trolley car tracks of our city and broadened the scope of her studies in art, music, and dance there.
“We hope it is a comfort to her family that so many around the world mourn with them at this time of grief. Through our sadness, we draw strength from the enduring power of her own words: ‘Just like hopes springing high, still I’ll rise.’”
From U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder:
“Dr. Angelou was much more than a literary genius, a chronicler of Jim Crow, and a witness to history. Through her extraordinary work, she captured the tenacity of the human spirit and spoke of harsh realities in the most evocative, moving, and lyrical of ways. Over the course of a career spanning some of the most tumultuous decades of the last century, she taught us how to rise above ‘a past that’s rooted in pain.’ She gave voice to a people too often shut out of America’s public discourse. She displayed remarkable courage in the face of tremendous adversity. And she inspired generations to overcome life’s greatest challenges – through her extensive writings, her performances, her advocacy, her educational work, and her principled activism.
“For my family and me, Maya Angelou will always be much more than a great American and an icon in world literature. She is the namesake of one of my daughters, who met her as a young girl and celebrated her twenty-first birthday just one day before the elder Maya was lost to us. Although our hearts are filled with grief at the news of her passing – a sorrow made all the more acute by the knowledge that we shall not see her like again – she will continue to be a source of strength and inspiration. She will endure in the singular body of work she leaves behind. And she will live on in the shining example that guides our steps forward and fuels the work that remains.
“We have lost a legend, a trailblazer in the truest sense, and one of the guiding lights of the 20th century. Yet despite our heartache and our pain, Maya Angelou will always be with us. Her voice will continue to console, to challenge, and to inspire us. We bid her farewell today. But we know that, even now, ‘into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear,’ still she rises.”
From California Attorney General Kamala Harris:
“Maya Angelou was one of history’s great lyricists whose words and deeds opened windows that allowed the world to see and appreciate the enduring principles of freedom, equality and justice. She had an immeasurable impact on the way I view the world and my place in it. Maya Angelou’s legacy will live on not only through her extraordinary body of work, but in the efforts of all those who fight for freedom, dignity and humanity.”
From Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland:
“I am deeply saddened by the passing of a phenomenal woman, Maya Angelou. Her vast body of work which spans over six decades as a dancer, actress, author, and activist has stood the test of time. As a leader in the civil rights movement, a poet laureate, a college professor, a Broadway actress, and the first female African American cable car conductor in San Francisco, Maya Angelou was the spirit and conscience of generations.
“Her example of grace, class and humility will continue to inspire young women to define themselves through a lens of self-love, humanitarianism and how they use their gifts to change the world.
“I offer my condolences, and my deepest thanks for her leadership and pioneering spirit. While the world mourns her passing, we can take comfort in the fact that her words and her legacy lives on in generations of people who have been touched, challenged and inspired by her work. She will be missed but never forgotten.”