Maya (continued): On the night she died, Oprah, I went to the hospital. Her breathing was labored, but she was still holding on. She would squeeze my hand. And I had hired somebody to just sit there with her and hold her hand. So I went in and said to her, "You know, I'm told that some people need permission to leave. Let me tell you about yourself. You were a great worker. You're a great cook. And you must have been a great lover because a lot of men—and if my memory serves me right, some women—risked their lives to love you." When I said that, the woman who was holding my mom's hand dropped it. I said, "Pick her hand up! I'm not asking you to judge her." So I told my mom, "Let me tell you about yourself. You deserved a great daughter, and you got one. And you liberated me to be one. So if it's time for you to go, you may have done everything God brought you here to do."
Oprah: I once heard you say, "If you want to liberate someone, love them."
Maya: That's it. Not be in love with them—that's dangerous. If you're in love with your children, you're in their lives all the time. Leave them alone! Let them grow and make some mistakes. Tell them, "You can come home. My arms are here—and my mouth is too." Tell them, "I'm going to leave you alone. You want to listen to rock and rap? Well, I think it's stupid, but help yourself." When you really love them, you don't want to possess them. You don't say, "I love you and I want you here with me." Naturally, if you love somebody, you do want to see their face every now and again, but that's not a condition of your love. People often get possession mixed up with love, and they say, "If you really loved me, you would call me." How—when life is going on? I think of you all the time, and the thought of you always lifts my spirits. But I'm not right at the phone!
Oprah: Have you been able to manage that kind of love even in romance?
Maya: It's hard, but I do it—and I don't know how. When I love somebody, I like him to be around; I like him to take me out to dinner; I like to look at the sunset with him. But if not, I love him and I hope he's looking at the same sun I am. Loving someone liberates the lover as well as the beloved. And that kind of love comes with age. Some of this wisdom came to me after I was 50 or 60.
Oprah: What's the best age?
Maya: Seventy—two! The seventies are hot.
Oprah: I'm glad you said that! I'm thinking the forties are it.
Maya: Wait till you hit the fifties!
Oprah: What's so great about the fifties?
Maya: A number of things happen. One, you are hopefully secure in what you want to do—which means that you don't spend a lot of time chewing on your knuckles about your reason for being here.
Oprah: Because you ought to know?
Maya: Yes, and you're settling into it in your fifties. Also, you're at your most beautiful. No woman is ever more beautiful than she is at 50.
Maya: Do you know how beautiful you are? And can you see yourself ten years ago? You're ten times more beautiful now.