The line of cars extended almost to the intersection when I turned onto the street to enter the African American Performing Arts Center. AAPAC shares real estate with the New Mexico Fairgrounds, but crap. I was ten minutes late and I hadn’t counted on this nonsense.
I wondered what event was happening at the Fairgrounds. I’m no longer idealistic naïve enough to assume everyone’s going to the same must-see event I’m going to.
Fortunately, the line moved pretty quickly because the Fairgrounds staff have taking people’s money for parking down to a science. I moved closer to the ticket booth and saw a posted sign that read “Monster Truck Jam parking $10.”
That explained it.
I rolled down my window and pulled up to the ticket booth.
“I’m going to the AAPAC.”
The ticket taker smiled. “Yeah, I figured you were here to see Maya. It’s a great show.”
That’s right. Snap judgment, assume, and stereotype away, dude, because you’re spot on. This face is definitely not going to a Monster Truck Jam. This face right here is going to see And Still I Rise, the feature length documentary about Maya Angelou.
And the parking was free.
Maya Angelou first entered my consciousness when I was a Freshman in college. I knew someone had to have failed me somewhere when my balding, bespectacled, white professor knew of her, and I didn’t. He had us analyze a scene from I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, the one where Maya’s in church and a member of the congregation goes overboard with her “being in the spirit” bit. The entire class lost their damn minds over this scene, and I knew I had been given a gift. (Incidentally, at the end of the quarter, this same professor took me aside and said, “You’re going to be a writer, right? Good.”)
Watching the movie, and listening to excerpts being read from her autobiographies, took me right back to that awful time in my life when I had taken a hiatus from college and was working crappy part time jobs. It was the second most depressing period of my life, (the first being high school). The only good thing about that lost, slacker low point was I had the time to read all Maya Angelou’s autobiographies, from I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings to All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes.
If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat.
It is an unnecessary insult.
—from I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Who knew I would years later be sitting in a darkened theater, yearning for that season in hell? If I could somehow freeze time, sit down and re-read all those books in one sitting, I would.
And boy, did this movie make me miss that era when the United States had a cool, with-it President, a President who specifically requested Maya Angelou write a poem, any poem she wanted, and read it at his inauguration. (Nothing like that will be happening again any time soon.)
Across the wall of the world,
A River sings a beautiful song. It says,
Come, rest here by my side.
—from On The Pulse of Morning, the Inaugural Poem by Maya Angelou
I also marveled anew at how Maya went from a child who didn’t speak for five years to someone who spent the rest of her life speaking eloquently, powerfully, and when it matters most.
After the movie ended, and I was walking up the aisle to leave, I waved goodbye to one of my old friends and his wife.
My friend was staring straight ahead at the now blank screen, tears streaming down his face.
I stopped in my tracks and rushed down the row of seats toward them. “Hugs. We need hugs.”
I embraced my friend and said, “I know. I miss her so much.”
Then I hugged his wife, no words, just several seconds of holding and back rubbing.
My friend still stared into space, disconsolate. I gave him one last squeeze on his shoulder and left.
The day Maya Angelou died, I was home sick with a voice-mangling chest cold. I saw the awful news on Twitter. I went into my bathroom, sat on the cold tile floor, and ugly cried hoarse, heaving sobs for ten solid minutes.
I totally get how you feel, my friend.
And Still I Rise airs on PBS this Tuesday, Februay 21, 2017. Check your listings for air times.