, Salem, MA


June 3, 2014

Column: Angelou helped us find meaning

Navigating the challenges of life can be difficult, and sometimes, the adversities threaten to defeat us. Whether we are facing abuse, divorce, discrimination, unemployment, poverty, addiction, illness, or any of a myriad of other traumas and disappointments, crises of all types can lay siege to our mental well-being.

In any one year, approximately 40 million Americans suffer from some form of serious depression, and millions more feel insignificant, isolated, hopeless, useless, hurt, scared, alienated or angry. Under all sorts of emotional duress, many of us lack direction and energy and struggle to get through every day.

It can be especially difficult to find meaning in a world that we observe or experience to be brutal and unfair.

Last week, Maya Angelou died at age 86. She was a courageous black author whose stories about racism, sexism and finding one’s voice and power gave hope and inspiration to millions of people.

In 2007, I heard her speak at Salem State College. What a warm and affirming woman she was. She spoke from the heart and held the audience rapt and still.

Titling her talk’s theme “A Rainbow in the Clouds,” Angelou promoted the importance of both giving and taking inspiration. First, each of us can benefit from finding the inspiration available in any of a wide range of things — “rainbows” — such as people, principles, literature, poetry, objects, nature, work, music and creative endeavors of many sorts.

Without inspiration — and here she is not necessarily referring to religion — one’s spirit may not survive abuse, hardship and whatever circumstances afflict us.

Without inspiration, she said, one may not have courage. And without courage, one cannot practice any other virtue — including perseverance — consistently.

Simultaneously, the courage to live strongly or produce creatively — whether in the face of adversity or not — may inspire and strengthen those around us. Intriguingly, we often don’t know for whom we’ve made some difference.

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