Choices, Chances, and Changes: Make the Most of Life




Dr. Maya Angelou

Dr. Maya Angelou

The recent (and quite sudden) death of Maya Angelou at age 86 triggered some reflections. Despite her age and impressive success in many walks of life over those years, neither she nor family and friends expected her to pass when she did.

I was not yet a teen when a cousin of mine died suddenly- spinal meningitis- in her senior year of high school. I recall vividly hearing variations on the same comments over and over: she never got to live her life; she should have had the time to finish college, marry, have children.
And I vividly recall thinking, as much as I tried to understand their pain and sense of loss, “No, she had the life she was meant to have. If it ended then, it is all she was ever meant to have.

I was a strange kid, I guess. I saw no reason to assume that I would live to be thirteen or eighteen or eighty. When someone wondered aloud, “Why her, why now?” I wondered to myself, “Why not me? Why not now, or a year from now?”

I decided at that young age that none of us are promised a minute more life than the moment we are living. Whatever opportunities or challenges you face – to do good work, to solve a problem, to help a friend or stranger, to lighten someone’s day, to savor the present experience – may never be there again. Do-overs and second chances are never promised. What we are doing right now may be the last thing we’ll ever do.

Whether we have ten years or eighteen or eighty-six, making each moment matter, treating it as our last chance to do something worthwhile, to be our best selves, is a choice. No one states that better than Dr. Angelou herself in her reading of one of her most famous poems: I RISE. (here)

When I hear parents and teachers advising young writers or artists to choose majors that are “safe”, I urge them to help their child explore possibilities that would allow them to pursue their dreams, to work in the fields  or related areas that they love. As much as statistics suggest that the pursuit of  art, or writing, or music, or acting, or even cooking as a career is not a “lucrative” choice, all of these areas can generate satisfying careers and successful lives.

As these very thoughts were being typed, revised, and edited for posting, I received word that a decades-long friend had died. She was in her nineties and her latest cancer was no longer responding to treatment. Still, she invariably was out and about at every opportunity, maintaining her chipper and upbeat style, and speaking openly about her inevitable outcome. When asked how she was feeling, she always said she had nothing to complain about. She often named a few of the things for which she was grateful, always starting with her many long years of life and adding that no one ever said she’d live forever, but she came close.

Word of her passing was no real surprise, and yet I felt a physical sensation of loss when I heard. I truly felt as if the world was now a bit heavier without her here to lift us all up and lighten the load.

But she, and May Angelou, and every other amazing, courageous person who embraces each moment of life with joy, set the path for  the rest of us to do our part to lighten the world for others.


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