I am a voracious reader.
As early as I can recall my mother required that all three of her children read at least two books at a time daily.
I don’t recall being read to as a child. I only recall asking my mother how to pronounce multiple syllable words.
Over the years, I have connected with many children of color who share the same stories.
But there is one story that nearly everyone in my generation was reading that I intentionally avoided.
“I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, by Dr. Maya Angelou.
I didn’t read it because I had heard that Dr. Angelou was a Survivor.
I had heard that she had written about her experience with childhood sexual abuse in a very authentic and bare way. She left everything on that page.
So, if I understood correctly, it was going to touch me the way that a classic R&B soul song would.
No thank you.
Avoid, Avoid, Avoid
If I so much as saw that “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” was on the syllabus in a college course that I struggled to get into, I was gone.
That is how I was introduced to Flannery O’Connor.
Cause, that professor wasn’t teaching Maya Angelou at all. Turns out I now love Flannery O’Connor.
Come Out of There
But at some point, you have to do those things that you fear.
Yeah, that is what I asked?
Can’t I just skip the things that I terrify me?
It turns out that it builds your confidence.
I had doubts too.
But no. It actually works.
Now it works, but it isn’t pleasant. There is no “bubblegum flavor” or “gummies”. You just have to do it.
So, I read it. Well, actually, I made it easier for myself.
I listened to the audio cassette in my car as I was traveling during a work project.
It was narrated by Dr. Angelou.
That was comforting.
Then I read the book.
There were tears.
There was anger.
There was sadness.
There was grief.
WE were robbed.
There were memories that came up from my own childhood.
But here is where things got a little different. I resisted the urge to push them away.
Think about it:
When Dr. Angelou says, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”, she is saying: Like the kid in the classroom waving her hand enthusiastically trying to get the teachers attention.
“I know. I know. Call on me! Call on me!”
I have the answer to a question.
So rather than push memories away this is the time in my life when I stopped getting annoyed with professionals who asked me questions about memories.
I realized that there are answers in those memories. There are clues, hints, cheat codes, if you will. I realized that I might need those.
Eventually, I summoned the courage to ask the memories some questions of my own.
I know that some people live by the adage of, ‘the past is over forget it.’
I can’t tell how often people will tell you that if you want to survive anything devastating like child sexual abuse, you have to forget about it.
Look, whatever works for you.
I am just thankful that Maya Angelou didn’t live by that adage. There would be no classic work like “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” or her many other works in which she graciously and generously shared wisdom from her journey.
But for me, I have lived through some things.
Those things were devastating, horrific, and destructive. At the same time.
Devastating, horrific, and destructive on a daily basis.
However, I have been there,
if I must put up with all of this mess,
best believe I am going to receive the