A Reflection on Maya Angelou’s Lesson of Love

I’ve never met Maya Angelou in person, but I feel like I was close to her because her words have made a great impact in my life. May 28, 2014, she passed away, yet her words and her voice is still living and breathing today. One of her famous quotes says, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Indeed, I can never forget how she made me feel. Out of many lessons I’ve learned from her, one that keeps on emerging on daily basis is the lesson about love—that love liberates.

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Now, the word love is often associated with romance, which is why I think most people (at least the people in my life) feel uncomfortable to say “I love you” to each other. But love is not merely a romantic love. Love is bigger than that. It is a powerful word that has infinite ways to describe, and there is no one definition that could fully satisfy us collectively. We can agree with each other about what love is, but I’m sure everyone has his/her own definitions and ways to understand it.

When I told a friend about how saying “I love you” makes everyone feels vulnerable. He said, “Yes, you want the moment to pass. You can say it to dogs and to children, of course, because it’s a different kind of love—in the case of dogs, completely secure.” I think my friend is right. I can say “I love Beyoncé” without feeling awkward because it’s a different kind of love compared to saying I love you to someone, perhaps a potential “soul mate.” I remember saying I love you to a close friend just to make him feel awkward, and it worked very well. He didn’t say “I love you” back, instead he replied with something like, “yeah.” Sometimes, people would explain that they don’t really have to say “I love you” to each other because they understand that that thing they have is love.

I think, the word “love” is so powerful that it could place you in a vulnerable position, and with vulnerability comes insecurity, and the core of these two words is fear. Therefore, we tend to build a wall, live in a “box,” or put on a “socially acceptable” mask to hide our “real face,” our “naked self.” It’s scary, I know. I, myself, am still trying to figure out how to be “myself” in front of people. It is more natural for me to put on a mask than to reveal my “true self” (whatever that means) to people around me, especially to strangers and acquaintances. I think it’s because of insecurity and fear of not being accepted. Fear made us create layers after layers of social mask until it get so thick that we lost the sense of who we are. We cage ourselves with layers of identifications that we think matter and important, but to our “true self” these identifications are meaningless, because the “self” itself is the truest identity–the one that is not constructed socially and politically. So when someone says “I love you,” fear is the first feeling we felt, and to some, fear might be the only feeling that they felt–hence their reactions toward love which are rooted in hatred and violence. This is apparent in how homophobes reacting to LGBTQ’s love (like the Westboro Baptist Church–check out this TED Talk). We fear first before we love, upon encountering LOVE. I know, it doesn’t make sense, but you can see it everywhere on your Facebook newsfeed.

Now, what happen to “love”? Diluted? Becomes a cliche that resembles “weakness”?

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A friend once told me, “love is not only a feeling.” Yes, I can agree with this, but I think feeling is an important part of love—it is the non-physical, intangible, unfathomable, indescribable thing, yet at the same time, we are certain of its existence because we know that we felt it. Love is an action? Sure. But action involves feelings. What do you feel when you help someone in need, and what do you feel upon receiving a help? I think, feeling is entangled with intention and action, and love is all of them, as one thing.

I find the word love fascinating because everyone knows what it is but nobody knows exactly how to describe it. For me, right now I’m still learning love, especially the love that Maya Angelou had explained—love liberates. She said, “I am grateful to have been loved and to be loved now and to be able to love, because that liberates. Love liberates. It doesn’t just hold—that’s ego. Love liberates. It doesn’t bind.” (Watch the video here)

And I met someone recently, and the way I feel about this person is special, weird, and different, but at the same time, it is somewhat the same with what Maya Angelou had explained about love—that love liberates, it doesn’t bind. I used to think that love attach two or more human beings together, like a mother and her child, but I realized that it is not an attachment–the child is a person just as the mother is a person where both are free, as in one does not belong to the other, but they love each other. Love liberates, it does not bind. It was such a powerful moment when this “love thing” materialized in real life. So, I liberate this person to do his thing, to pursue his dreams, to live wherever, and to be with whoever he chooses to be with. And that’s love.

Twilight in Ogalala

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