I have been reading another blog where the writer has made a goal to read 100 books each year and on her blog she keeps a progress report of what or how much she reads. This has inspired me to set a reading goal for myself. I decided that starting on August 1 I will read 50 autobiographies in the next year. I picked autobiographies because they inspire me so much. I am amazed by the things people can accomplish and the power of the human spirit to survive. Autobiographies fill me with hope like donuts fill me with fat grams.
Today I was at Borders and had some time to kill before my ride showed up. With no intention of actually starting to work towards my goal, I decided to scope out the autobiographies. My eyes fell upon Letter to My Daughter by Maya Angelou. In her introduction to this book she says, “I have one son, but I have many, many daughters all over the world. This book is for my daughters.”
I sat down in front of the shelf of books and started to read the first few pages. I was hooked right away. Maya Angelou is a poet. No matter what it is she writes, it is has a rhythm that invites you in and then holds you there.
Without even realizing it I found myself in a comfy couch and for the next 166 pages I was completely immersed in Maya Angelou’s stories and advice. The most touching pieces for me were the ones that discussed her relationship with her mother. In one story, Maya Angelou talks about how she became pregnant at the age of 16. She was uncomfortable and insecure in her already six foot frame that looked nothing like a woman to her. After ongoing propositions from a suitor she finally gave in, hoping the act would fledge her body into womanhood. She went to meet the boy at an arranged place and time, where she describes what were 20 clumsy minutes.
She left the place without even remembering if they said goodbye. Nine months later she would give birth to her son. Her brother Bailey convinced her not to tell her mother until she finished high school so she could graduate. As soon as high school was over, she told her step-father through a note she left on his pillow. Terrified, she didn’t sleep that night. The next morning he knocked on her door asking her to join him for breakfast. He added as a side bar that he had read her note.
He helped her call her mother who came home immediately from her travels. Maya Angelou was 8 months and 1 week pregnant. Her mother asked if she knew who the boy was. She did. She asked Maya if she loved him. She didn’t. “Then there is no use in ruining three lives,” her mother said and told her she would support her fully. During the delivery, her mother who was a registered nurse, told her jokes and stories, waiting to say the punch lines at her most painful moments.
Reading the story in Maya’s words… from the fear that comes with becoming pregnant at such a young age to witnessing her mother’s unconditional love brought me to tears. It is in the hardest and most difficult moments of our lives that we need to be able to turn to those who we love and not even have to open our eyes, not even have to take a deep breath and know that we can fall and they will catch us. To read about her mother’s tremendous love for her in this incident and so many others was incredibly inspiring and moving. It made me want to be such a mother, such a friend and such a daughter. It helped me realize why Maya Angelou is so strong and so beautiful.
The other main theme that really inspired me in this book was Maya Angelou’s message to live life with courage. In one section she thanks the lovers. She thanks them for being brave enough to be in love. She discusses what courage it takes to be in love with someone. I think it is so easy to love someone but to let someone love us- now that takes guts! It is so rare to find someone that loves you unconditionally and it is so commonplace to have been hurt and betrayed that it feels like a revolutionary act to trust someone to love you.
And I don’t think she was talking about the typical lovers. Quite frankly, when most people say they are in love, they are just insecure. They are with their partners merely because they like the feeling that someone loves them, or they are afraid to be alone. That is why dysfunctional relationships and co-dependencies are so common. People aren’t loving each other, they are running or hiding. That is why you see so many girls, and sometimes guys abandon their friends and go into a hole where they count on their partner for everything. The foundation of their love is so weak that they jealously guard it, they run away from anything that might question it. People sometimes describe the beginning of a relationship as feeling like an addiction and that is profoundly sad.
But to love someone in a healthy and trusting way, that takes courage. It takes trust in our selves and trust in the love both from us and from our partner. Maya Angelou did a great job of highlighting this and the general courage one must have in life.
Overall, I would highly recommend reading this book. It is a fast and easy read and there are many great life lessons to take away from it.
I am also looking for suggestions for what other books to read! I want to take one with me to Dallas and right now I am leaning towards Memoirs by Pablo Neruda because I have been in love with his writing lately. Also, there is a new biography about Albert Camus which looks very promising. Any other suggestions? What is the best autobiography you have read?
Book One: Letter to My Daughter