“The desire to reach the stars is ambitious. The desire to reach hearts is wise and most possible.”
~ Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou (1928-2014) was one of the most amazing women in American History. She was a poet, memoirist, essayist, and human rights activist. Most importantly, though, Angelou was a wise person who always strove to have a positive impact on those with whom she made contact.
At first glance, one might think that Angelou devalued the first goal of reaching the stars as compared to that of reaching hearts. That certainly was my first reaction. As I thought about her words, I realised that her emphasis on the second desire was not at the expense of the desire to reach the stars.
As a person who served for more than three decades in a high school classroom, I lived the reality of young people who were struggling with dreams for a bright future, as well as that of teens who had already lost hope and were embittered. The loudest voice in society calls for youngsters to strive for success – in their careers and earning power. Muted are the urgings for them to endeavour to share their hearts and live positive lives loving their fellow human beings.
I spent my entire career teaching in a Roman Catholic school system in Ontario where religion and family life courses were part of the curriculum. There was hardly a day when the school community wasn’t reminded to love each other, to be respectful and caring, and to be generous to those who had less or were suffering. Fantastic charitable events were organised and carried out each school year as students were invited to actively participate.
And yet, one wonders if much of these messages were internalised. I believe that this is what Maya Angelou is saying. To reach hearts isn’t something we decide to do from time to time, it is a way of life that stems from an attitude. When we speak of attitude, we mean a settled way of thinking about something. Note the word ‘settled’. My attitude is as much a part of me as my blue eyes. My behaviour will always reflect my thinking. So it matters not what I say or what I do from time to time, but it does matter how I behave consistently and without forethought because that reflects my attitude.
Angelou declares “The desire to reach hearts is wise and most possible.” The wisdom in this desire or goal is that it will become the foundation of your own happiness. We all wish to be happy. Most of us understand that no one else on the planet can make that happen for us. If I cannot create and maintain a ‘happy me’, then I’m just out of luck. Angelou is giving us the key. Reach the hearts of others, and I will be happy. I have already lived most of my life, and I know from my own living that I derive the greatest pleasure from serving others. People ask me what I want for Christmas or a birthday, and my response is always the same. I don’t care – it doesn’t matter. I’m not trying to be negative, just honest. Getting gifts is nice, but the real thrill is giving gifts… so I don’t care what I get.
We are also told that this desire to reach hearts is very possible. I understand this to mean that I can create a ‘settled way of thinking’ about this desire that I can carry with me for the rest of my life. If I succeed, this attitude will be reflected in all that I do and say – and refrain from doing and saying. Alas, I’m not there yet. I am very grateful to have the recorded wisdom of a wise and caring woman like Maya Angelou. She continues to reach hearts from beyond the grave. That is considerable power!