Picking up my copy of Maya Angelou’s book, Gather Together in My Name, part of me was afraid. This was a fear I think most readers can understand where you pick up a book by an writer you already respect and value and you venture to read more of their work. You don’t know what you will find exactly or if you really will love it as much as you hope. I had read her poems before and one after another had amazed me into an awkward confidence of who I was but was still growing to be. So when I found her book sitting on my bookshelf I should have been confident that it too would help me grow but for some reason I wasn’t. Regardless of that fear I still ventured forward and opened to the first page.
As I began to read the story of Maya Angelou’s early life I fell in love as I realized that her story was the Godsend, the sign, the everything that I had needed especially in that moment. As I listened to her tell me, because it felt personal and direct, about how she as a young woman set out into the world and never stopped pursuing happiness. On the surface it may not seem like that is what this story is about as she grows as a mother, as she moves from job to job, and as she falls in and out of love. However that is all I could find in this book, a woman’s, a human beings, search for happiness.
I found myself captivated as I watched her fall into the hands of misfortune repeatedly, each circumstance unique in its own way but each time she still faced it, sometimes boldly and sometimes weakly. She faced it with a determination to be happy and it began with her first setback, when she was confronted with the option to stay in misery or to go out into the world again and pursue the things that made her feel alive. By choosing the second option her life did not fall easily into her hands. There was no absence of mistakes or pain but each time before things seemed to fall apart she was always happy. From this I learned how happiness is about making a choice, it is choosing those things that make our hearts leap and it is choosing love. Happiness is choosing to leave those things that make us miserable and it is making decisions and acting on them. I realized how easy it is to curse our hearts for making us pursue something that doesn’t end up working out without remembering how much joy it brought to us as we fought for it. I also learned that happiness isn’t necessarily getting everything you want but it is the series of moments you spend doing what you want.
So I thank Maya Angelou for sharing this glimpse into her life and for reminding me that choosing the things you love is not easy and that just because things don’t work out the way I want them to does not mean I chose wrong. Instead I learned that the most important thing I could ever do is to just enjoy my journey.