Life's most persistent and urgent question is: what are you doing for others?
Guideposts was sorry to learn of the passing of poet, author and civil rights activist Maya Angelou at the age of 86 on Wednesday, May 28. Her work brought joy, comfort and inspiration to millions. This recent reminiscence seemed a fitting tribute.
Early this month, thanks to the incredible generosity of a dear friend, I attended a benefit for women and girls at which Maya Angelou was the keynote speaker.
I have read many of Dr. Angelou’s books and poems and have heard her recite some of her work on television and radio, but I have never seen her live. Despite being in a wheelchair, she has a stirring presence, with striking features, beautiful hair and a wonderful, comfortable, expressive style of dress. Yet it is her voice–so unique, powerful and melodic–that elevates her presence to a level all her own.
Dr. Angelou spoke, sang and read to us about the gift of giving hope to others. She began her address by singing the words, “Be a rainbow in someone’s cloud,” a metaphor for the simple act of giving others hope and encouragement. I do not know if my Grandpa Peale and Dr. Angelou ever met, but I think if they sat down and talked, they would have discovered they had much in common.
Dr. Angelou was very open about her difficult and unsettling childhood. She and her brother moved around the country from one family home to another. She spoke of traumas she experienced, her lack of education. She felt that being poor, black and uneducated meant there was no hope that she would ever have the full life she longed for.
Then came a rainbow in her cloud: her paternal grandmother, who told young Maya that one day she would be a teacher to millions and would do so in many languages. Her grandmother’s love and support and steadfast belief in her helped Maya persevere and overcome her feelings of inferiority.
Dr. Angelou used the gift from her grandmother to become one of our most respected and beloved writers, poets and performers. She has given hope and encouragement to millions. Her role as a teacher has taken on many forms, perhaps even beyond what her grandmother imagined.
As Dr. Angelou spoke, I could not help but think of Grandma and Grandpa Peale, of Guideposts magazine, with its true stories of inspiration, and of Guideposts Outreach Ministries and the lives they touch through uplifting publications (distributed free to places like military bases, hospitals and shelters), Comfort Kits for Kids and prayer. Talk about being a rainbow in someone’s cloud! Every day thousands of people are given the gift of hope through Guideposts, the company and magazine founded by my grandparents so many years ago.
Dr. Angelou gave me much to think about. I came away from that lunch feeling fed in more ways than one. I’m taking up her challenge to be a rainbow in someone’s cloud. You never know how many lives you might ultimately touch by feeding someone’s mind and soul. Look at how far her grandmother’s gift took Maya Angelou.
Katheryn (Katie) Allen Berlandi is the seventh of Guideposts cofounders Dr. Norman Vincent Peale and Ruth Stafford Peale’s eight grandchildren. She is a clinical social worker with a private practice focusing on children, adolescents and families, and a consultant for Guideposts and the Guideposts Foundation. Katie lives in a small town in Connecticut with her husband, two daughters and son.