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A Letter of Thanks to Maya Angelou

Dear Ms. Angelou,

I know you’ll never have a chance to read this. I’m sorry for that, but I’m writing this letter anyways.

As I grow older, I find genuinely life-changing ah-ha moments are fewer and farther between. Several Christmases ago, you gave me an ah-ha moment that has stuck with me. It improved my parenting skills, my presentation skills, and maybe even my appreciation for the kind of poetry that doesn’t rhyme.

When I was a senior in high school, my English teacher (Mr. Reddinger) asked the class to take a few moments and write down what poetry meant to us. When he walked by my desk and looked at my paper, he saw that it was blank. He rolled his eyes, shook his head, and moved along.

Poetry was pretty meaningless to me. It used way too much symbolism, which made me think harder than I felt I should have to think in order to understand something that was written in my native tongue. Why not just tell me what you mean? Besides, how can writers call themselves “poets” if their words don’t rhyme?

As the years passed, I grew older and wiser and more set in my ways about poetry.

When I had kids, I was thrilled to read Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein. They mostly rhymed, but even when they didn’t, they still made sense.

At Christmastime, it was a lot of fun to snuggle around the fire as a family to read The Night Before Christmas.

When the night before Christmas turned into Christmas Day in 2008, my very young daughter opened a present. It was a book. Maya Angelou’s Amazing Peace. A Christmas Poem.

Amazing Peace

I had a sinking feeling. I opened it but noticed that this “poem” didn’t rhyme. What fun was that for a toddler, let alone for me? Luckily, it came with a CD, so I didn’t have to fumble through a bunch of poetic verses and stanzas, dripping with symbolism and meaning.

When the presents had all been opened and we all had a chance to take some time to appreciate the gifts we had been given, my wife popped in the CD. My daughter was captivated, perhaps mostly by the illustrations in the book. As I listened, I was captivated by your passionate narration.

It was a poem that didn’t rhyme and was dripping with symbolism and hidden meaning, yet listening to your narration it all seemed to make sense.

The next time I opened Amazing Peace, I tried reading it myself (without resorting to the CD). Not just reading it, I tried reading with passion. I could never equal your narration, but I could improve my own narration every time.

This experience was one of the first things that came to mind a few weeks ago when I read Lauren Hug’s blog post about how her own husband improved his public speaking skills by reading bedtime stories to his child.

Finding something worth being passionate about. Practicing it with passion. Delivering it with passion. These are the lessons I learned from you. These lessons have made me better in what I do.

Thank you Ms. Angelou for helping me to be better.

With great affection and appreciation,

Brian

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