Sometime in either 2002 or 2003, I got to see the great poet, Maya Angelou, give a talk at the Alliance Theater in Atlanta. She ended her talk that night with a Q&A with the audience. She commanded the room like an old school, benevolent yet stern teacher in front of 4th grade class. If you had a question, she instructed us to raise our hand and stand up so she could see us and she’d call on us one at a time to ask our questions and afterwards sit down so she would know that your question had been answered. It was like watching a lumberjack fell trees with just a point of a finger. Around the 4th or 5th question, she pointed to a woman all the way up in the back row. I wish I could remember the question but I don’t. After Dr. Angelou answered the woman’s question, she pointed to the next person. The next person began to ask their question but Dr. Angelou instantly silenced her with nothing more than a sharply a raised palm and looked back up at the back row.
“You can go ahead and take your seat, ma’am,” she said and then turned back to the next person to continue their question.
The next person got maybe another sentence or two out before Dr. Angelou raised her hand again to silence her and turned back to look up at the back row.
“Ma’am, please take your seat. I’ve already answered your question,” she said more forcefully. There was a noticeable pause in the audience. After a beat, Dr. Angelou loudly and sternly said “MA’AM. SIT. DOWN!”
No one in the audience moved. It was like the first time your father yelled at your mom at the dinner table and then shattered a glass of cheap box wine against the wall knocking your 3rd place art award on to the floor. Not like all those other times, after the initial shock of it wore of your young mind and it just became part of the mundane existence of suburban life. It was like that FIRST time. That feeling of the first time the fight or flight adrenaline shot into your blood stream and your body chooses neither fight nor flight and just decides to freeze in place. Remember that? I bet you do.
There was a silence that seemed to last forever. Then a very kind and soft feminine voice…a voice I recognized from just one question ago… from the back row said “…But…I am sitting down.”
The New York Ballet could not have better choreographed the synchronization of all 200 or more wide-eyed faces slowly turning from the stage, around to the back row and then back down to the stage again!! It was amazing!
In that moment, no matter if you were young, old, rich, poor, black, white, gay, straight, bi, man, woman, a little from column A, a little from column B, Republican, Democrat, Christian, Muslim, foreign, domestic, imported, exported, nacho cheese Doritos, grape soda, vegetarian, vegan or from Florida… we were all ONE that night in that moment for those precious few seconds. Yes, it was in a moment brought about from collective horror and embarrassment, but a moment of universal togetherness none the less.
It’s possible. I’ve seen it happen. Maybe we’ll get back there someday… maybe.