Monday, June 8, 2009

Hero: Maya Angelou

Dr. Maya Angelou speaking at Bill Clinton's inauguration in 1993, reading her poem, On the Pulse of the Morning

Dr. Maya Angelou is heroic to me for many reasons, but I'm just going to share one moment, one evening, that makes me proud and that showed me how gracious she is.

I had the honor of interpreting an event with Dr. Angelou (it was a public event, I can say it) a number of years ago. It was an evening I will never forgot. I would say it was probably 6-8 years ago. My team person and I arrived at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall early so that we could dress and set up, etc. We weren't there very long when someone came to us and said that Dr. Angelou would like to meet us. They led us to her dressing room and when we entered, the person said, "Dr. Angelou, your interpreters are here." Dr. Angelou was seated and ushered us forward, taking my hand and my team person's hand, clasping each between her own.

"What is your name dear?" she asked in her magnificent voice. I told her, voice shaking, "Jean." "Your whole name?" I told her and said, feeling foolish and giddy, "It's a pleasure to meet you," and backing away before I did something even more foolish. She did the same with my team. She told us that she was grateful that we were there to ensure that her presentation was accessible to everyone and scraping and bowing, we left.

When we walked out onto the stage, there was a stool at the front apron for the "on" interpreter and a stool and a table set upstage a bit. The table had a white linen table cloth, two crystal goblets with ice water and a vase with a flower on it. Now, to put this in perspective, I have almost NEVER had ANY water offered or given AT ALL. When I interpreted Peacock in the Park, they always made sure we had water, but this, this was a whole different level. Everything was elegant and well thought-out. I'm sure this was the regular setup in each city with interpreters, yet it still made us feel special, and hopefully, the people in the audience using our services then also felt welcome.

Once we were done interpreting (one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of my career- I wanted to be brilliant, but alas, I don't think I was), Dr. Angelou was taking her bows after a phenomenal performance. She turned and graciously acknowledged us, we bowed briefly and turned back to her, applauding her. To our surprise, she indicated that we should come towards her. We both hesitated, thinking we were imagining things. She bent her hand rapidly, "Come here," it said. We came forward, both standing about a foot away to her right. She said, "Come here, dear," and took my partner's hand, moving her to her left side, then she took my hand, each of us standing on either side of Dr. Maya Angelou, and she had us bow with her, holding our hands. She introduced us by our full names, first my teammate, then me, "Ms. Jean Miller." She didn't have notes. She didn't ask us. She didn't get our names mixed up. She remembered our names for more than 3 hours and shared the stage with us.

It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life. It was one of those moments when I realized how much civility, kindness, thoughtfulness, simple manners and acknowledgement meant. It feels good to be called by name. It feels good to have someone look you in the eye when they talk to you. It is important that we show our gratitude for the gifts people give us, large and small, tangible and intangible.

That evening lives in my memory as one of the greatest of my career. Thank you, Dr. Angelou.

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