Friday, 6 June 2014

I know why the caged bird has flown

The title of my blog is a tribute to the late and greatly celebrated African-American author and activist, Maya Angelou, who passed into a greater glory last week.

Maya Angelou’s world renowned books were amongst my prized possessions, especially the first part of her iconic autobiography: “I know why the caged bird sings.” This title reached out to my young heart that was also suffering the effects of lovelessness and emotional abuse. In its confused state, my mind and heart walked the journey that Dr Angelou walked, despite the fact that I lived in a different time, place and situation.

The writing was  honest, deep, flavoured with unashamed truths that were hard to swallow. It was the bitterness that I related to and I balked at the idea that I too could have been born into this wicked world. Maya’s life and mine were world’s apart but our shared womanly experiences created a bond that is today unbroken.

Knowing what I know now, in my half century year, that statement rings as true today as it did when I was teenager. The world is cruel and it’s still a man’s world where a woman cannot feel safe. Fear and persecution is our unique female inheritance and, each generation, has to reinvent itself in order to keep our daughters….and their daughters……as far from the harsh glare of misogyny as is possible.

Women feel. Women bleed. Women comfort. Women need. Like many of us, Maya was born into a world that she was ill prepared for. Abandonment and betrayal dogged her every step as she suffered for her art and personal progress. Maya was an independent thinker. She didn’t have a strong person to lean on. She was her own mentor.

In the world she inhabited, women were objects of desire and derision in equal measures. We’re still in shackles but they feel a little lighter in the 21st century as women push against societal conventions, forge a life of their own and pay their own way.

In her writing, Maya’s experiences with the opposite sex were less than fulfilling. The male figures that punctuated her life were either disappointing or disastrous. “A woman needs a man like she needs a hole in her head” could have been an alternative title to one of her books.

Maya didn’t need a shoulder to cry on; hers were strong enough. She didn’t need someone to fix her; she learnt to do that herself. She didn’t need the little luxuries since she’d earned the greatest luxury of all: free speech. 

Maya flung the cage door wide open so that no woman need ever feel trapped by her sex. Being oppressed is not a reason to lose hope. Keep the sunshine in your head when the dark clouds gather. Let words be stronger than the sword. Let your voice be heard though the gun may silence it. 
The songbird has a short span of life but the song goes on...... so will the spiritual legacy of Maya Angelou.



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