Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem

 

 

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snow in bethlehem

By Maya Angelou

Thunder rumbles in the mountain passes
And lightning rattles the eaves of our houses.
Flood waters await us in our avenues.

Snow falls upon snow, falls upon snow to avalanche
Over unprotected villages.
The sky slips low and grey and threatening.

We question ourselves.
What have we done to so affront nature?
We worry God.
Are you there? Are you there really?
Does the covenant you made with us still hold?

Into this climate of fear and apprehension, Christmas enters,
Streaming lights of joy, ringing bells of hope
And singing carols of forgiveness high up in the bright air.
The world is encouraged to come away from rancor,
Come the way of friendship.

It is the Glad Season.
Thunder ebbs to silence and lightning sleeps quietly in the corner.
Flood waters recede into memory.
Snow becomes a yielding cushion to aid us
As we make our way to higher ground.

Hope is born again in the faces of children
It rides on the shoulders of our aged as they walk into their sunsets.
Hope spreads around the earth. Brightening all things,
Even hate which crouches breeding in dark corridors.

In our joy, we think we hear a whisper.
At first it is too soft. Then only half heard.
We listen carefully as it gathers strength.
We hear a sweetness.
The word is Peace.
It is loud now. It is louder.
Louder than the explosion of bombs.

We tremble at the sound. We are thrilled by its presence.
It is what we have hungered for.
Not just the absence of war. But, true Peace.
A harmony of spirit, a comfort of courtesies.
Security for our beloveds and their beloveds.

We clap hands and welcome the Peace of Christmas.
We beckon this good season to wait a while with us.
We, Baptist and Buddhist, Methodist and Muslim, say come.
Peace.

Come and fill us and our world with your majesty.
We, the Jew and the Jainist, the Catholic and the Confucian,
implore you to stay awhile with us
so we may learn by your shimmering light
how to look beyond complexion and see community.

It is Christmas time, a halting of hate time.
On this platform of peace, we can create a language
to translate ourselves to ourselves and to each other.
At this Holy Instant, we celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ

Into the great religions of the world.
We jubilate the precious advent of trust.
We shout with glorious tongues the coming of hope.
All the earth’s tribes loosen their voices to celebrate the promise of
Peace.

We, Angels and Mortals, Believers and Nonbelievers,
Look heavenward and speak the word aloud.
Peace.

We look at our world and speak the word aloud.
Peace.

We look at each other, then into ourselves,
And we say without shyness or apology or hesitation:

Peace, My Brother.
Peace, My Sister.
Peace, My Soul

maya angelou reflects on her reckoning with death and the forces that propelled her toward success 

I realized when I was about 20 that I would die. It frightened me so. I mean, I had heard about it, had been told and all that, but that I . . . ? [She points at herself and raises her brows as if in disbelief.] It so terrified me that I doublelocked the doors; I made certain that the windows were double- locked—trying to keep death out—and finally I admitted that there was nothing I could do about it. Once I really came to that conclusion, I started enjoying life, and I enjoy it very much.

Another occurrence took place at about the same time— maybe about a year later—and the two occurrences liberated me forever.

I had two jobs. I was raising my son. We had a tiny little place to live. My mother had a 14-room house and someone to look after things. She owned a hotel, lots of diamonds. I wouldn’t accept anything from her. But once a month she’d cook for me. And I would go to her house and she’d be dressed beautifully.

One day after we’d had lunch, she had to go somewhere. She put on silver-fox furs—this was when the head of one fox would seem to bite into the head of the other—and she would wear them with the tails in front; she would turn it around with the furs arching back. We were halfway down the hill and she said, “Baby”—and she was small; she was 5- feet-4 1/2 and I’m 6 foot—“You know something? I think you’re the greatest woman I’ve ever met.” We stopped. I looked down at this pretty little woman made up so perfectly, diamonds in her ears. She said, “Mary McLeod Bethune, Eleanor Roosevelt, my mother and you—you are the greatest.” It still brings me to te—. [Her eyes tear up.]

We walked down to the bottom of the hill. She crossed the street to the right to get into her car. I continued across the street and waited for the streetcar. And I got onto the streetcar and I walked to the back. I shall never forget it. I remember the wooden planks of the streetcar. The way the light came through the window. And I thought, suppose she’s right? She’s very intelligent, and she’s too mean to lie. Suppose I really am somebody?

Those two incidents liberated me to think large thoughts, whether I could comprehend them or not [she laughs], but to think. . . .

MOORE: One of your large thoughts must have been about planning to have a diverse life and career. How do you move so easily from one thing to another?

ANGELOU: I have a theory that nobody understands talent any more than we understand electricity. So I think we’ve done a real disservice to young people by telling them, “Oh, you be careful. You’ll be a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none.” It’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. I think you can be a jack-of-all-trades and a mistress-of-all-trades. If you study it, and you put reasonable intelligence and reasonable energy, reasonable electricity to it, you can do that. You may not become Max Roach on the drums. But you can learn the drums. I’ve long felt that way about things. If I’m asked, “Can you do this?” I think, if I don’t do it, it’ll be ten years before another black woman is asked to do it. And I say, yes, yes, when do you want it?

My mom, you know, was a seaman. At one point, I was in Los Angeles. I called her in San Francisco and said, I want to see you, I’m going to New York and I don’t know when I’ll be back, so let’s meet mid-state. She said, “Oh, baby, I wanted to see you, too, because I’m going to sea.” I said, going to see what? She said, “I’m going to become a seaman.” I said, Mother, really, come on. She said, “No, they told me they wouldn’t let women in their union. I told them, ‘You wanna bet?’ I put my foot in that door up to my hip so women of every color will get in that union, get aboard a ship and go to sea.” She retired in 1980, and Asian, white and black women gave a party for her. They called her the mother of the sea.

So, yes, we cripple our children, we cripple each other with those designations that if you’re a brick mason you shouldn’t love the ballet. Who made that rule? You ever see a person lay bricks? [She moves her hands in a precise bricklaying manner.] Because of the eye and the hands, of course he or she would like to see ballet. It is that precise, that established, that organized, that sort of development from the bottom to the top.

MOORE: Do you resent the fact that your mother wasn’t there for much of your childhood?

ANGELOU: Oh, yes. Yes. I was an abandoned child as far as I was concerned, and Bailey also. We didn’t hear from her— we heard maybe twice in seven years or something. And then I realized that she was funny and loving and that there are certainly two different kinds of parents. There is the person who can be a great parent of small children. They dress the children in these sweet little things with bows in their hair and beads on their shoestrings and nice, lovely little socks. But when those same children get to be 14 or 15, the parents don’t know what to say to them as they grow breasts and testosterone hits the boy.

Well, my mom was a terrible parent of young children. And thank God—I thank God every time I think of it—I was sent to my paternal grandmother. Ah, but my mother was a great parent of a young adult. When she found out I was pregnant, she said, “All right. Run me a bath, please.” Well, in my family, that’s really a very nice thing for somebody to ask you to do. Maybe two or three times in my life she had asked me to run her a bath. So I ran her a bath and then she invited me in the bathroom. My mother sat down in the bathtub. She asked me, “Do you love the boy?” I said no. “Does he love you?” I said no. “Well, there’s no point in ruining three lives. We’re going to have us a baby.”

And she delivered Guy—because she was a nurse also. She took me to the hospital. It was during one of the Jewish holidays, and my doctor wasn’t there. My mother went in, told the nurses who she was, she washed up, they took me into the delivery room. She got up on the table on her knees with me and put her shoulder against my knee and took my hand, and every time a pain would come she’d tell a joke. I would laugh and laugh [she laughs uproariously] and bear down. And she said, “Here he comes, here he comes.” And she put her hand on him first, my son.

So throughout her life she liberated me. Liberated me constantly. Respected me, respected what I tried to do, believed in me. I’d go out in San Francisco—I’d be visiting her, I was living in Los Angeles—and stay really late at some afterhours joint. Mother knew all of them and knew all the bartenders. And I’d be having a drink and laughing, and the bartender would say on the phone, “Yeah, Mama, yeah she’s here.” She’d say to me: “Baby, it’s your mother. Come home. Let the streets know you have somewhere to go.”

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