I was on my way to work listening to the Tom Joyner Morning Show when I heard them announce that Maya Angelou had passed away. When I got to work I immediately logged onto my computer to confirm that one of our icons had indeed fallen.
Though I knew that she was 86 and had truly lived an exceptional life, it just didn’t feel like she should be gone. I found myself in a place that I thought I had left—a surreal existence of trying to deal with something that I didn’t want to be real. I looked up at my bulletin board in the hall entitled Phenomenal Woman and I was reminded of the work my students had done creating poems on great women in history, and the fact that we’d used Dr. Angelou’s poem to kick off our lesson.
Born in to poverty and segregation, Maya Angelou born Marguerite Johnson, epitomized the American dream. She faced many struggles in her life, but she never let anything stop her. She was the true definition of a Renaissance Woman. She acted. She directed. She sang. She danced. And she wrote. Not only was she an artist, she was also an activist. Maya Angelou was an African-American woman in a country that did not treat those who of her race or gender well. And even though she spoke out against injustices, she was not bitter. She looked for the lesson in every experience.
Maya Angelou was many things to many people, and as I read the various reflections on the life she led, the words of Oprah Winfrey resonated with me the most. Not only did her words eloquently capture the essence of their relationship, it flooded me with memories of my friend who recently passed away. Like Maya, Carmen faced many struggles that she didn’t let stop her. When life handed her lemons, she didn’t complain. She made lemonade. Ten years my senior, our friendship spanned more than two decades. Just like Maya was to Oprah, Carmen “was there for me always guiding me through some of the most important years of my life.”
Carmen was not a celebrity in the sense of the word as we know it, but she was well known in the circles that she traveled in and she affected everyone around her. Oprah said what stood out to her the most was not what Maya Angelou had done or written or spoken, but how she lived her life. How she lived her life. Those words jumped out at me because like Maya Angelou, Carmen lived life on her own terms. She never compromised who she was, and she was one of the most selfless people I’d ever met. It was one of many things that I admired about her.
I never had the opportunity to meet Maya Angelou in person, but I read her work; I watched her in interviews and I learned from her as she was an exceptional teacher. Carmen and I were colleagues, friends, and confidantes to each other. I learned from her as well even when I was a reluctant student. She died in March and I miss her every day. She may not have had the far reaching influence of a Maya Angelou, but she touched a lot of lives. Today the world is a darker place because their lights no longer shine. Like Maya is to Oprah, Carmen will always be to me—“the rainbow in my clouds.”