Was there anything Maya Angelou didn’t do? Anyone she didn’t know? Any significant moment of black American history from the last 86 years that passed her by?
When Joe Louis fought Primo Carnera in 1935, she was a child in Arkansas listening to the radio and wondering "if the announcer gave any thought to the fact that he was addressing as ‘ladies and gentlemen’ all the Negroes around the world who sat sweating and praying, glued to their ‘master’s voice'". In 1958 she was in Los Angeles when Billie Holiday visited her house and sang Strange Fruit. Angelou had to scold her son for interrupting to ask "What’s a pastoral scene, Miss Holiday?", but Holiday’s "scornful" answer – "it means when the crackers are killing the niggers" – reveals another historical moment.
When she was 16 Angelou became San Francisco’s first African-American streetcar conductor. Her friends included Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, and at Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993, she recited a poem that urged Americans "to give birth again / To the dream". In 2010 Barack Obama awarded Angelou with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor. Is it surprising to learn that her most famous poem is entitled "Phenomenal Woman"?
But it’s not her poems nor her performances that will ensure Angelou a place in American literary history, but her autobiographies, particularly the first of the seven, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings…..
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings explores the poverty and violence of racial segregation in 1930s Arkansas and relates the story of Angelou’s rape at the age of seven by a boyfriend of her mother. Angelou testified at the man's trial but he was released and kicked to death outside the courthouse. In response Angelou stopped speaking for five years, believing that her voice was a "killing machine". "When I pick up the pen to write," she told an interviewer once, "I have to scrape it across those scars to sharpen the point." Harold Bloom has spoken of her "almost unique tone" as one that "blends intimacy and detachment".
As she relates it, the turning point in Angelou’s life came when she heard her teacher, Mrs Flowers, read from Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities: "Her voice slid in and curved down through and over the words. She was nearly singing."
By the time she was 19, she had worked as a short-order cook, a prostitute, a nightclub waitress and dancer, and had a two-year-old son to support. Many more jobs and relationships followed, before she became a successful dancer, singer and actor, adapting her first husband’s name to become, finally, Maya Angelou. And that was only the start. We read of meetings with Martin Luther King, life as a journalist in Ghana and an editor in Egypt, directing plays and films, playing the part of Kunte Kinte’s grandmother in the acclaimed television adaptation of Alex Haley’s Roots, romance, motherhood and inspiration.
While she eventually became a kind of one-woman industry, lending her name to all manner of inspirational souvenirs, including a series of Hallmark cards, and acting as mentor for another phenomenon, Oprah Winfrey,
Daily Mail. The caged bird who helped free the minds of racist America: Poet Maya Angelou is found dead aged 86 after final prophetic tweet
Maya Angelou was found dead by her caretaker Wednesday morning at her home in Winston-Salem North Carolina… Her son Gary B. Johnson, her only child, issued a statement about the author's death: 'Dr. Maya Angelou passed quietly in her home before 8:00 a.m. EST. Her family is extremely grateful that her ascension was not belabored by a loss of acuity or comprehension.
'She lived a life as a teacher, activist, artist and human being. She was a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace. The family is extremely appreciative of the time we had with her and we know that she is looking down upon us with love.'
On Thursday - just one day after her death - her official portrait will be installed in the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington.
Angelou had been struggling with health problems in recent weeks ….She remained active, even as her health began to deteriorate. On May 23, five days before her death, she tweeted, 'Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God.'
Reaction to Maya Angelou’s death is going to be broader and deeper than people realize. They’ll say she was a great writer, a teller of experience, a witness. All true. But at the end she was a mystic. A friend who saw this interview, with Oprah Winfrey, said: “She was so close to Heaven.”
Angelou said love is an invisible electric current that lights the world and everything in it, and we don’t even notice. She spoke of the shattering yet building moment when she understood for the first time that “God. Loves. Me.” “It still humbles me that this force which made the leaves and fleas and stars and rivers and you—loves me. Me, Maya Angelou. It’s amazing. I can do anything and do it well, any good thing, I can do it.”
She was not embarrassed to talk like this. She wanted you to understand what she knew; she wanted, graciously, to share it, so you’ll know the current too.
On YouTube and with Oprah The Revelation That Changed Dr. Maya Angelou's Life
An interesting infographic - The Most Common Cause of Death at Every Age - can be found here. To read it properly, it needs to be large, too large to me to post.
As the chart shows, transport injuries and intentional injuries (including suicide) are the leading causes of death for young people. Transport injuries caused 36% of deaths among people aged 15 to 19 (and 29% of deaths among those aged 20 to 24), while intentional injuries were responsible for 30% and 32% of deaths for those age groups, respectively.
Once you start to get older, cancer and other diseases arise. Mental disorders account for a significant portion of deaths at nearly every age.
The data visualization posted to Reddit by UCanDoEat is based on 2010 data from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
This Thursday, Simon and Schuster will publish Opening Heaven's Door by Patricia Pearson. CBC radio has an interview with the author who is described as a serious thinker and a rational Scot. " But when you vow to approach your topic with an open mind, you never quite know where you'll end up"
In an excerpt from chapter 1, What the Dying Know, Pearson recounts how she was inspired to write the book after her cancer-ridden sister had an uncanny experience and vision the night their father died in another city - a vision that helped the sister meet her own death in peace.
The sense that the dying might open a door to us that leads elsewhere came first in hushed confidings. During the summer and fall of 2008, people began to tell me things. Some were friends and colleagues I'd known for years; others were people who sat beside me on an airplane or met me for the first time in a bar. If I told them what I'd witnessed with my father and sister, they reciprocated. Almost invariably, they prefaced their remarks by saying, "I've never told anyone this, but . . . " Or, "We've only ever discussed this in our family, but if you think you might do some research . . ." Then they would offer extraor- dinary stories about deathbed visions, sensed presences, near- death experiences, sudden intimations of a loved one in danger or dying. They were all smart, skeptical people. I had had no idea that this subterranean world existed all around me.
Mayer needed to completely re-examine her understanding of how the world worked. After my father and sister died, I felt much the same way. I wanted to understand what we know and what remains unclear, unexplored, about these controversial modes of awareness. It wasn't enough for me, as a journalist, to accept the officially received wisdom. It certainly wasn't enough for me, as a sister, to ignore Katharine's intelligence and discernment and what she was willing to put on the line at our father's memorial service in favour of some information technology guy saying, Oh, she was just making shit up. Sorry, too much at stake here, in terms of defending her integrity and of respecting our collective experience.
The following are from excerpts published serially in he Daily Mail.
Despite the concerned obstetrician by her bedside, Doris was unmistakably dying. Her baby had been born safely, but there’d been rare and unforeseen complications. It was what happened next that stunned the obstetrician, Lady Florence Barrett, and later caused a sensation.
‘Suddenly,’ Lady Barrett recalled, ‘she looked eagerly towards one part of the room, a radiant smile illuminating her whole countenance. “Oh, lovely, lovely,” she said.
I asked: “What is lovely?”
“What I see,” she replied in low, intense tones. “Lovely brightness — wonderful beings.”
Then — seeming to focus her attention more intently on one place for a moment — she exclaimed: “Why, it’s my father! Oh, he’s so glad I’m coming, he is so glad.”’ Briefly, Doris reflected that she should, perhaps, stay for the baby’s sake. But then she said: ‘I can’t — I can’t stay; if you could see what I do, you would know I can’t stay.’
At this point, Doris saw something that confused her: ‘[Father] has Vida with him,’ she told Lady Barrett, referring to her sister, whose death three weeks earlier had been kept from her because of her advanced pregnancy. ‘Vida is with him,’ she said wonderingly.
Research in Wales, Japan, Australia and the U.S. shows that between 40 and 53 per cent of the bereaved receive some kind of signal or visitation when someone close to them dies.
Usually they sense a presence; sometimes they actually see or hear one. Psychiatrists have labelled these experiences ‘grief hallucinations’, though they have not yet been studied neurologically.
In 2012, the psychologist Erlendur Haraldsson published a comprehensive study he’d done on 340 cases of extraordinary encounters with the dying. Usually people encountered their fathers or mothers — suggesting that the parental impulse to connect and reassure continues past death.
About a quarter of his subjects saw or heard the dead person at the hour of death or within the day it occurred. In 86 per cent of these cases, they weren’t yet aware of the death by ordinary means.
Other studies of telepathy by University of Virginia psychiatrist Ian Stevenson explored how people could know that someone physically distant was dying or in distress. Stevenson started by analysing 165 meticulously researched historical cases. Nearly 90 per cent had occurred, he discovered, when the person was awake, rather than asleep or dozing.
Two-thirds involved news of an immediate family member. Eighty-two per cent involved death, a sudden illness or accident.
The Third Man.
Who is the third who walks always beside you?’ wrote the poet T.S. Eliot in 1922. ‘When I count, there are only you and I together, / But when I look ahead up the white road /There is always another one walking beside you.’
These lines in Eliot’s great poem The Waste Land have been assumed to allude to the uncanny experience of Sir Ernest Shackleton, after his boat became mired in ice in 1916. With two of his crew members, he’d made a desperate, exhausted trek across a 25-mile, mountainous stretch of Antarctica. At some point, all three men became aware of a presence — another companion — accompanying and guiding them.
The Third Man — although in reality it was a fourth — then seemed to escort them safely to a whaling station. Yet none of the men spoke about him during the trek itself, each thinking that they alone had sensed the extra companion.
Later, when Shackleton was asked about this, he said the experience had been too transcendent to be the subject of casual ‘Ouija Board chatter’.
His sense of wonder has been shared by many explorers, sailors, divers and mountaineers who have experienced the Third Man in times of duress. Their companions have sometimes been visible, sometimes not. Sometimes, the presence has spoken aloud to them, other times not. But, always, the presence has comforted them or led them to safety.
David Horne summarizes Irreducible Mind, a 600 plus page book by a group of academic psychiatrists, psychologists and philosophers in 4 Amazing Facts Suggesting the Mind Can Exist Independent of the Brain
One of the coauthors is Bruce Greyson, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Virginia and leading researcher of near-death experiences….
Greyson presents four lines of evidence for the mind as an independent entity, which I’ve taken the trouble to summarize, and they could be an eye-opener. First he gives this caveat:
The evidence that I’m going to discuss…is derived entirely from scientific research. But I do not want to give you the impression that this evidence is…accepted by Western scientists. In fact, most Western scientists are completely unaware that this evidence even exists.
1. Lucidity in the last moments….
2. Advanced mind, minimal brain….
3. Near death experiences (NDEs): Rich consciousness when there shouldn't be any…
4. Remembrance of lives past
If you go to the link there is an hour-long long video of Greyson speaking in India with even more dramatic findings.
Our culture is used to outsourcing anything related to death. Barely any of us kill the food we eat, so we can easily overlook death's role in the process. Even lifelong meat-eaters are uncomfortable with a hunter's enthusiasm in killing food to feed his family. Many who have purchased countless boneless, skinless, chicken breasts can't imagine a farmer killing a bird with her own hands.
When people die, we pay others to care for them and make arrangements. Our involvement is mostly distant and conceptual, focused on memories and prayers, rather than the embodied reality of death. I was fascinated when a friend told me about a funeral she attended where the family held a wake for a few days before they buried their loved one themselves. Are we missing part of the process of grieving because we have lost the practice of facing death with all its pain and sadness?
During the Easter season especially, the gruesome reality of farm life gives us a tangible connection to life and death. It helps us, young and old, understand our creator and our place on earth. Death is sad. It's tragic despite our belief in a God of new life and resurrection. 1 Thessalonians 4:13 says the temporary sleep of death shouldn't make us grieve like those who have no hope, but this doesn't mean we won't grieve at all. Our grief takes on a different face because we have hope.
So, as parents living on a farm, we allow our children to see death on a level they can understand. We're surprised to find, in some ways, they are better equipped with the imaginative capacity to hold these complex tensions of life and death.
This week I took my children to the small cemetery on the farm property. We came to see the vibrant patch of daffodils that grow beside the five headstones. But while we were there, we said a prayer. When I finished with, "Thank you God for being stronger than death," I caught my daughter nodding her head in agreement. As we walked down the path toward home, she said simply, "Maybe when I die, I will be buried there."
Even though many of us might be startled by such a straightforward approach to the end of life, I believe that is what we should long for. Our culture's approach to death is often denial: the way we treat our elderly loved ones, the ways we outsource death, and the lengths we go to pretend we aren't aging. But Hebrews 2: 14-15 suggests we have nothing to fear, that Jesus' death freed those of us who were imprisoned because of our fear of death.
They do not prescribe medication, plump up pillows, or serve soothing broths, but for hospice patients and their families spiritual caregivers often ease the pain that hurts the most. The emotional comfort comes first from the companionship, accepting people exactly where they are, acknowledging as they certainly know themselves that they are coming to the end of life and being able to reassure them that it is OK to die, said Rabbi Herman Blumberg, rabbinic director of Hebrew SeniorLife Hospice Care.
Spiritual care has always been a part of hospice programs, but chaplains interviewed for this article report that patients and their families increasingly recognize the need to heal the mind and soul, even as the body is failing. Behind this trend, they say, is that people are less likely now than in the past to view spirituality as the exclusive realm of religion.
D.G. Myers who is dying from prostrate cancer revises the 12-step program to suit the process of dying.
The difference, of course, is that dying is an addiction from which there is no recovery. But the similarity is this. Dying is a mental discipline, even if the goal is not to be clean and sober, but simply to be ready.
From the Art of Manliness 10 Ways to Help a Grieving Friend which is an excerpt from Keys to Happiness, an anthology of articles published in 1954 which included “How to Help Someone in Sorrow”
by Howard Whitman
Most of us want to be helpful when grief strikes a friend, but often we don’t know how. We may end up doing nothing because we don’t know the right — and helpful — things to say and do. Because that was my own experience recently, I resolved to gather pointers which might be useful to others as well as myself.
Ministers, priests, and rabbis deal with such situations every day. I went to scores of them, of all faiths, in all parts of the country. Here are some specific suggestions they made:
1. Don’t try to “buck them up.” ….
A man who has lost his wife must take it hard (if he loved her). “Bucking him up” sounds as though you are minimizing his loss. But the honest attitude, “Yes, it’s tough, and I sure know it is,” makes your friend feel free to express grief and recover from it. The “don’t take it so hard” approach deprives him of the natural emotion of grief.
2. Don’t try to divert them. Rabbi Martin B. Ryback of Norwalk, Conn., pointed out that many people making condolence calls purposely veer away from the subject. They make small talk about football, fishing, the weather — anything but the reason for their visit. The rabbi calls this “trying to camouflage death.” The task of the mourner, difficult as it is, is to face the fact of death, and go on from there. “It would be far better,” Rabbi Ryback suggested, “to sit silently and say nothing than to make obvious attempts to distract. The sorrowing friend sees through the effort to divert him. When the visitor leaves, reality hits him all the harder.”
3. Don’t be afraid to talk about the person who has passed away. Well-intentioned friends often shy away from mentioning the deceased. The implication is that the whole thing is too terrible to mention.
“The helpful thing,” advised Rabbi Henry E. Kagan of Mount Vernon, N.Y., “is to talk about the person as you knew him in the fullness of life, to recreate a living picture to replace the picture of death.”...
4. Don’t be afraid of causing tears…..Fear of causing tears, probably more than anything else, makes people stiff and ineffective. Visiting a friend who has lost his wife, they may be about to mention a ride in the country when they remember the man’s wife used to love rides in the country. They don’t dare speak of peonies because they were her favorite flower. So they freeze up.
“They really are depriving their friend of probably the greatest help they could give him,” Pastor Hetsler commented. “That is, to help him experience grief in a normal way and get over it.” Medical and psychological studies back up the pastor’s contention that expressing grief is good and repressing it is bad. “If a comment of yours brings tears,” he concluded, “remember — they are healthy tears.”
5. Let them talk. “Sorrowing people need to talk,” explained the Rev. Vern Swartsfager of San Francisco. “Friends worry about their ability to say the right things. They ought to be worrying about their ability to listen.”
If the warmth of your presence can get your friend to start talking, keep quiet and listen — even though he repeats the same things a dozen times. He is not telling you news but expressing feelings that need repetition. Pastor Swartsfager suggested a measuring stick for the success of your visit: “If your friend said a hundred words to your one, you’ve helped a lot.”
6. Reassure — don’t argue. “Everybody who loses a loved one has guilt feelings — they may not be justified but they’re natural,” …The yearning, “If only I had not done this, or done that — if only I had a chance to do it now,” is a hallmark of grieving…..
7. Communicate — don’t isolate. Too often a person who has lost a loved one is overwhelmed with visitors for a week or so; then the house is empty. Even good friends sometimes stay away, believing that people in sorrow “like to be alone.”…..“It is in the after-period, when all the letters of sympathy have been read and acknowledged and people have swung back into daily routine, that friends are needed most.
Keep in touch, Father Bresnahan urges. See your friends more often than you did before. See him for any purpose — for lunch, for a drive in the country, for shopping, for an evening visit. He has suffered a deep loss. Your job is to show him, by implication, how much he still has left. Your being with him is a proof to him that he still has resources.
8. Perform some concrete act. We should make it our business, when a friend is in sorrow, to do at least one practical, tangible act of kindness. Here are some to choose from: run errands with your car, take the children to school, bring in a meal, do the dishes, make necessary phone calls, pick up mail at the office, help acknowledge condolence notes, shop for the groceries.
9. Swing into action. Action is the symbol of going on living. By swinging into action with your friend, whether at his hobby or his work, you help build a bridge into the future. Perhaps it means painting the garage with him, or hoeing the garden
In St. Paul, Minn., the Rev. J.T. Morrow told me of a man who had lost a son. The man’s hobby had been refinishing furniture. When he called on him, Pastor Morrow said, “Come on, let’s go down to the basement.” They sanded a table together. When Pastor Morrow left, the man said, “This is the first time I’ve felt I could go on living.”
Sorrowing people, Pastor Morrow pointed out, tend to drop out of things. They’re a little like the rider who has been thrown from a horse. If they are to ride again, better get them back on the horse quickly.
10. “Get them out of themselves,” advised Father James Keller, leader of the Christophers. Once you have your friend doing things for himself, his grief is nearly cured. Once you have him doing things for others, it is cured.
Grief runs a natural course. It will pass. But if there is only a vacuum behind it, self-pity will rush to fill it. To help your friend along the normal course of recovery, guide him to a new interest.
On the occasion of a new exhibition of Viking Treasures at the British Museum comes this story of the funeral of a Viking warlord in the 10th century
Another chronicler, an Arab traveller named Ahmad Ibn Fadlan, came across Vikings in what is now Russia, and was scandalised by their lack of hygiene. They were tall and their bodies ‘perfect’ in shape, he recorded, but they were ‘the filthiest of God’s creatures’, as dirty as ‘wild asses’ and had shocking sexual habits.
These were displayed at an extraordinarily lavish but dreadful ritual he witnessed for a chieftain who had just died — in reality, an orgy, a pagan gang-bang, no less. A third of the man’s possessions went to his family, a third on the clothes for his funeral, and the remaining third on booze for his wake, ensuring everyone was drunk enough to perform what came next.
At the centre of the ten-day proceedings was a slave girl from his household, apparently a volunteer, who would be cremated with her master. A boat was hauled on land and a couch placed on deck, covered by a tent. The chief’s body was dressed to the nines in stockings, trousers, boots, and a tunic of brocade with gold buttons, and propped up on the couch. Mead, fruits, and flowers were laid beside him for his journey into the afterlife, along with his weapons.
‘Then they brought a dog, cleft it in two halves and laid it in the boat. Then they took two horses, cleft both of them in twain with a sword and laid their flesh in the boat. ‘Then they brought two cows, cut them in two likewise and laid them in the boat.’
Meanwhile, the ‘maiden’ who was to die had death duties to perform — ‘she went here and there, and entered each of a series of tents where the head of the household quartered within had intercourse with her, saying “Say to thy lord, I have done this out of love of thee”.’
The climax of the ceremony approached with the poor girl being lifted onto a platform. ‘Behold, I see my father and mother,’ she called out, before being let down. Then she was lifted up again and declared that she could now see all her dead relatives. Lifted a third time, she cut off the head of a live chicken, and announced: ‘There I behold my lord sitting in paradise, and paradise is fair and green, and around him are men and servants. He calls me. Bring me to him.’
‘Then,’ wrote the chronicler, ‘they led her to the boat. She took off the two armlets that she wore and gave them to the old woman whom they call the Angel of Death, who was to kill her. ‘The slave girl then took off two anklets and gave them to the two maidens who had waited on her, the daughters of the old woman known as the Angel of Death.
‘Then the people lifted her onto the boat, and men with shields and staves gave her a bowl of mead, whereupon she sang a song bidding farewell to her friends and drank it. ‘She was given another beaker, took it and sang for a long time, while the old woman was urging her to finish the goblet, and to go into the tent where her lord lay. I saw then how disturbed she was.’
The now frightened girl hesitated — ‘until the old woman took her by the head, made her go into the tent and also entered with her. Whereupon the men began to beat their shields so her shrieks would not be heard. ‘Six men went into the tent, and all had intercourse with the girl. Then they placed her beside her dead lord. Two men seized her by the feet and two by her hands. ‘The old woman took out a rope into which a loop had been made, and gave it to two of the men. The old woman jabbed her with a broad-bladed dagger, while the two men strangled her until she was dead. The relatives of the dead man then took torches and set fire to the ship.’
It was over in a great blaze — master cremated, slave girl sacrificed, a brutal and violent end, but a death seemingly in keeping with the way Vikings chose to live and die.
This vividly-told story from the 10th century is remarkable, not just for its content, but for where it took place — on the banks of the River Volga, which runs through what is now modern Russia. It indicates how far and wide the daring of the Vikings took them, in what was almost an obsession to find new lands and wealth to plunder — economic migrants prepared to risk all. From Denmark and Norway, they went wherever sea and rivers would take them.
The catastrophe of suicide by Emily Esfahani Smith
Since 2001, the year marking the beginning of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, more active-duty soldiers have killed themselves than have died in combat.
The rise in suicide has been accompanied by a loss of the moral questions that once surrounded it. G. K. Chesterton was one of our last full-throated critics of suicide. His insistence that suicide is immoral sounds strange to our individualistic ears: “Not only is suicide a sin, it is the sin,” Chesterton wrote: “It is the ultimate and absolute evil, the refusal to take an interest in existence; the refusal to take the oath of loyalty to life. The man who kills a man, kills a man. The man who kills himself, kills all men; as far as he is concerned he wipes out the world.” Chesterton goes on to say that the act of suicide is selfish: “A suicide is a man who cares so little for anything outside him, that he wants to see the last of everything.” It would be difficult to imagine anyone writing such a polemic today. We do not consider suicide the moral catastrophe that people like Chesterton once thought it was.
Rather, our contemporary culture treats suicide as a medical problem—a “public health concern,”