How Maya Angelou helped me find my voice | Lifestyle.INQ

OCTOBER 27, 2022

I first discovered Maya Angelou 10 years ago during a particularly challenging time in my life.


I had browsed her book, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” and was both awed and inspired by her courage and faith. Raped when she was 7 years old, she chose not to speak for five years after that. But her soul was way too powerful that, eventually, as she grew into adulthood, she chose to listen closely to her various life experiences and took up the challenge of helping humanity through her stories.


Writing with fury


It was Maya’s writings that encouraged me to find my voice again the year I turned 40. “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you,” she wrote—and that moved me to finally put down on paper for the first time, although in fiction, the whole experience of losing my son, from the moment we took him to the hospital to the first few days after we buried him.


I remember writing with such fury, the words just tumbling out. I wrote the story over a two-day period in my old room which I used to call my “fortress of solitude.” I was exhausted after writing the piece and, if I remember it right, fell ill for a couple of days.


It was then I knew that my long journey toward healing had begun.


Tricky thing


In crafting that story, Maya Angelou’s words were what guided me and kept me writing deep into the night. “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them,” she wrote.


It was like the voice of an older sister, or a grandmother, prodding me to keep on. To this day, it is a quote that I return to again and again whenever I find myself in challenging situations that make me want to walk out or throw in the towel.


At the time that I wrote the story, six years had passed since my son’s death, and many events in the realm of the professional and the personal had transpired. Memory is both a powerful and tricky thing. As the events of the past were being revisited, I had to keep editing mentally: “Do I put this in? Do I keep this out?”




Again, Maya’s words were my guide: “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.”


In the end, I decided to keep even the tough parts. I wanted to be able to put down, concretely, what had happened to me during that period in my life.




The interesting thing is, I had completely forgotten all about the story, filed it away in my computer and went on with my life. And then I discovered Google Drive a few days before Maya passed away.


A friend had sent me some files over the Google Drive application. I could not access them because I had not installed the app. I felt no need to do so. On Monday evening, I installed it, downloaded the files my friend sent, and then went to sleep.


June is usually a difficult month for me because it marks two occasions that remind me of two great losses—my son’s death anniversary on June 3, and Father’s Day, which is celebrated every third Sunday of June.


On May 28, a Wednesday, Maya Angelou passed away. The following day, sitting in the car during morning traffic, for some reason, I was “moved” to explore Google Drive. It was while tinkering with the app that I unearthed many of my files from long ago.


‘Letter from Heaven’


And there it was, the story I had written in 2004, with the title “Letter from Heaven”—coming so close to my son’s death anniversary. My hair stood on end.


I opened it and reread the story, almost 10 years to the day I had written it. Like a letter from God, it was a beautiful reminder for me that love will always be far greater than death. I had written it from the point of view of my 4-year-old son who was in a coma.




As I was reading it, one particular scene jumped out of the page for me. It was a conversation between my son and his lolo (my dad) as they stood by heaven’s gate. Here is an excerpt…


Lolo said that the road to heaven’s gate was still a long walk from where we were.


“You’re not yet dead, you know,” he said, and I looked at him curiously.


“You mean, I’m going to leave them soon?” I asked him. “But why? When?”


Suddenly I had a lot of questions that I wanted him to answer.


“You’ll still be around for another week or so, Nick. I’m not really sure. All I know is that there are lessons that our Father want your mommy and daddy to learn, that’s why you were lent to them,” Lolo explained.


“But that’s too short a time! And mommy, daddy and ate Nina will be so sad when I go…”


I started to cry.


“Ssshhh. It’s going to be okay, Nick. I promise you. When you go, it’s going to be a very sad time, but later, each one of them will find their own meaning for your leaving,” Lolo hugged me.


“Will they forget me when I’m gone?” I asked.




“No, Nick, just like me, we will both live in their hearts forever,” he smiled.


Forever. That had been my favorite word in the weeks leading to my surgery. It was strange for a 4-year-old to have a fascination for the word, but a month before my operation, forever had taken a special meaning for me.


“Toy Story” was my favorite movie and its lead character Buzz Lightyear’s battle cry before lifting off to space was, “To infinity and beyond!”




After leaving the movie theater one afternoon, I remember asking Mommy, “What does infinity mean?”


Quiet for a moment, mom smiled, cupped my face and said, “It’s like forever, Nick, meaning it doesn’t end, it goes on and on and on.”


Looking up at her, I grinned and whispered in her ear, “I love you forever, mommy.”


“I love you forever, too, Nick,” she whispered back. And as she hugged me tightly, I felt a tear trickle down her cheek…




Serendipity has always been one of my favorite words, and so is grace. In stumbling upon this story 10 years later, God gave me the gift of both. Suddenly, a decade hence, June is no longer the difficult month I always thought it would be.


E-mail the author at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @cathybabao.





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