Maya Angelou died today and I feel sad.
Barbara Mainwaring died a week ago and I feel sad.
Emile Van Dantzig died a couple of weeks ago and I feel sad.
I’m guessing you will know Maya Angelou, but you might not know Emile or Barbara. So let me tell you a bit about them.
Emile was only in my life for a few weeks in total as we met in Greece in Kalikalos. Emile saved my youngest son from the stag beetle he had attached to his finger having decided to poke it to see what would happen. Ben screamed, I screamed and Emile quietly and calmly came and took the beetle’s pincers out of the soft flesh of Ben’s little finger and left both child and beetle unharmed. Emile was kind and thoughtful and would listen and consider. He shared his time and his knowledge.
I worked with Barbara for over 13 years. She had a ribald sense of humour and could turn catastrophe into hilarity. She worked with pupils with special needs and could join in and laugh with them whilst smoothly sorting out teacher stress as well. Barbara was kind and generous with her time and attention. She was like a mother to many of us, she would never judge or pry and she had a huge heart.
- How do you think you will be remembered?
- How do you want to be remembered?
‘I care and I dare ‘ is how Barbara and Emile lived.
It seems to me that ‘kind’ is a quality I am only now, age 47, coming to appreciate fully. My mother told me to marry someone kind but that sounded so dull, so sensible, so un-sexy. But she was right. I will tell my boys to spend time with kind people.
- Just take a few minutes to list all the small acts of kindness you made today without even noticing.
The Buddha talks about loving kindness and it seems so simple and yet I feel that I fall so short of it so often. I am impatient and critical too often. I am patient, kind and attentive too rarely and yet these are the very qualities that I appreciated and valued in Emile and Barbara.
So what of Maya Angelou? Her books have inspired me and millions of other readers. Growing up in the deep south, being raped at the age of 7 and then deciding not to speak for the next 5 years is not something she had in common with Emile or Barbara.
And yet they are similar in fundamental ways. They brought positive care and action to the lives of the people they touched. They didn’t just talk about helping, they got on and helped. ‘Nothing will work unless you do‘ (Angelou).
For all her many roles; from actress to activist; what I value most about Maya Angelou is her ability to be all of herself, no apologies, no shame..she didn’t present herself as perfect, but as a woman making her way through life as courageously as she could as did Emile and Barbara.
‘Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can’t practice any other virtue consistently’ (Angelou).
Barbara had cancer and knew she was dying but kept making time for visitors and their news.
Emile had already had a major heart attack and yet still made time for his people and his interests and passions.
Maya Angelou posted on Facebook only 2 days ago about having to miss a League Baseball Civil Rights ceremony due to ill health.
None of us know how we will face death when our time comes, I hope I have some of the grace and dignity of Emile and Barbara. They also died knowing they were loved, and there is no wealth in the world that can buy such a precious gift. To die knowing we are loved means being loving ourselves.
- How did you show love today?
I never heard Barbara or Emile complain.
Barbara would find the humour in the situation or would just get on with finding a way around it. Emile would listen, explain, gather people together and draw on the collective good will he created to get things such as the yurt and the compost toilet built in the boiling sun and make it fun. ‘If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. Don’t complain.’ (Angelou)
Angelou said ‘My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.‘ and it seems to me that not only has she achieved this, so too have Emile and Barbara. However, I fear I still have some way to go.
I will remember Maya Angelou, Emile Van Dantzig and Barbara Mainwaring for are their courage to be themselves and to connect with people deeply and kindly. I will remember their determination to make life better for the people they could make life better for. I will remember the importance of kindness and small actions that help other people without them even noticing they have been helped. I will remember them all for how they made me feel.
‘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.’ (Angelou)
Thank you Barbara, Emile and Maya; my life has been richer for having you in it.