Broad shoulders to stand on

“The purpose of life is to live a life of purpose.” ~ Paul Kirk

Standing on broad shoulders by Debbie Phillips Women on Fire

Last week, in a hushed voice, my colleague Meredith gingerly crept into the kitchen to share the news.

“Maya just died.”

My heart sank that Dr. Maya Angelou was gone. My first thought: how lucky was I to get to live in this lifetime with a woman like her as inspiration and a role model?

Many years ago, shortly after I’d read I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, (and if you haven’t read it, please promise me you will), I met its towering author in Boston. I was immediately drawn to her and rather surprised by her 6-foot presence!  She was memorable and approachable, warm and gracious.

The lesson I learned that day listening to her speak was to be mindful always — when wielding something sharp.

While the story she told was of loving to cook, being distracted while chopping vegetables, only to have a knife slice through her fingers, I saw it as a metaphor.

It was her way to remind us to be vigilant, mindful, focused when using something as sharp as our tongues, as powerful as our body language.

She had a way as a writer and activist of making the toughest issues and conditions understandable and empowering.

As Women on Fire, one of our important aspirations is to honor, celebrate and cherish those on whose shoulders we stand.  Dr. Maya Angelou is one of those sets of shoulders.

There are so many ways in which this poet, teacher, phenomenal woman influenced me and so many of you, I know. Here are ten out of hundreds of my favorite quotes, a legacy of wisdom for us all:

  • Speak your mind, because you may not get another opportunity.
  • If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.
  • Nothing will work unless you do.
  • Try to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud.
  • When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.
  • There is no greater agony than bearing the untold story inside you.
  • We may encounter defeats. But we must not be defeated.
  • I’ve learned that making a living is not the same as making a life.
  • Never make someone a priority when all you are to them is an option.
  • I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.

I will never forgot the way she made me feel.  From that day in Boston; to the day I stood in the rain listening to her recite her poem “On The Pulse of the Morning” at President Clinton’s inauguration; to the day last year when I opened a book that she’d personally autographed to me and saw the flourish of her signature and the word JOY.

How many best-selling authors, in their 80s, would take the time to write someone’s full name and send along a word of encouragement?  This was a woman who lived a life of purpose. And love. And caring.

She made me feel as though I mattered.

And, since that day I met her in Boston, every time I use a sharp knife, I think of her and I pay attention.

Wishing you a phenomenal week ~


Debbie Signature

Sign up for spark