Brain Pickings

Maya Angelou on Home, Belonging, and (Not) Growing Up

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“I am convinced that most people do not grow up … our real selves, the children inside, are still innocent and shy as magnolias.”

In 2008, Maya Angelou — one of the greatest voices in American literature — penned Letter to My Daughter (public library), a collection of 28 short meditations on subjects as varied as violence, humility, Morocco, philanthropy, poetry, and older lovers, addressed to the daughter she never had but really a blueprint to the life of meaning for any human being with a beating heart.

In the first essay, simply titled “Home,” Angelou offers this poignant lens on identity, growing up, and belonging.

Thomas Wolfe warned in the title of America’s great novel that ‘You Can’t Go Home Again.’ I enjoyed the book but I never agreed with the title. I believe that one can never leave home. I believe that one carries the shadows, the dreams, the fears and dragons of home under one’s skin, at the extreme corners of one’s eyes and possibly in the gristle of the earlobe.

Home is that youthful region where a child is the only real living inhabitant. Parents, siblings, and neighbors, are mysterious apparitions, who come, go, and do strange unfathomable things in and around the child, the region’s only enfranchised citizen.

[...]

I am convinced that most people do not grow up. We find parking spaces and honor our credit cards. We marry and dare to have children and call that growing up. I think what we do is mostly grow old. We carry accumulation of years in our bodies and on our faces, but generally our real selves, the children inside, are still innocent and shy as magnolias.

We may act sophisticated and worldly but I believe we feel safest when we go inside ourselves and find home, a place where we belong and maybe the only place we really do.

Letter to My Daughter is a superb read in its entirety — highly recommended.

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