Maya: It was one of the most important crossroads in my life, because once I realized that no matter what, I would do this thing, the next step was to think, "If I am going to do the most difficult and frightening thing—dying—is it possible that I could do some difficult and maybe seemingly impossible things that are good?"
Oprah: Was this a conscious thought?
Maya: Yes. I thought, "Just suppose I could choreograph a ballet." And I did it. Suppose I could teach dance at the theater in Cleveland. And I did it. Suppose I could sing for a living—that I could stop these two jobs as a waitress and a salesperson.
Oprah: Had you thought about doing that before but didn't have the courage?
Maya: It had never occurred to me. I'm going to die. So why can't I do everything? And what is this idea that I worked all day yesterday, so I'm tired today? I've never believed that.
Oprah: That is why everyone marvels at your stamina—your ability to continue to be out there speaking, teaching and giving, giving, giving. We think, "How does she do it? I need a nap!"
Maya: I think a nap or a rest overnight is great. But who needs three days of rest? Please! The second day, you might die.
Oprah: So I think I've got this: You realized you would die—and not just intellectually, because we all know it intellectually.
Maya: Yes, ma'am.
Oprah: I think many people live in complete denial of the fact that they are going to die. They pretend it's not going to happen. That's why some people won't even go to the doctor.
Maya: Yes. Some think, "If I marry this guy who's two inches taller than I am and who has a nice bank account, I won't die. If I buy six cars, I won't die. If I hate Jews, I won't die. If I hate homosexuals, I won't die." They think they will increase their life by shunting misery onto somebody else, but it's just the opposite.
Oprah: Is there nothing that frightens you? You never seem to be unsure about anything. Were you always that way?
Maya: You'd be surprised what coming to grips with the fact that you will die does for you.
Oprah: Earlier you were telling me that your life is defined by principles. And one principle you have taught me is that we can't allow ourselves to be "pecked to death by ducks."
Maya: That's true. Some people don't have the nerve to just reach up and grab your throat, so they just take....
Oprah: Little pieces of you—with their rude comments.
Maya: That's right.