Oprah: What would you say, sitting here where you are now, to that young calypso singer who appeared in the movie Calypso Heat Wave in 1957?
Maya: I would encourage her to forgive. It's one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself, to forgive. Forgive everybody. I mean, we ask the Creator to forgive our stupidest actions. The cruelest mean-hearted things.
Oprah: We say, God forgive me.
Maya: Yes. So then you forgive. It relieves you. You are relieved of carrying that burden of resentment. You really are lighter.
Oprah: I know you often say that love liberates us, but actually, forgiveness does.
Maya: But you can't forgive without loving. And I don't mean sentimentality. I don't mean mush. I mean having enough courage to stand up and say, "I forgive. I'm finished with it."
Oprah: I've tried to let people know, as you have taught me over the years, that when you forgive somebody, it doesn't necessarily mean you want to invite them to your table.
Maya: Indeed not. No, no, no. I don't even want you around me. It just means I'm finished with you.
Maya: I had to get to a place where I could forgive the man who raped me when I was 7 years old. And that was a matter of incredible mental gymnastics. I had to think of what I had done to other people and how I'd been forgiven. Whatever I've done, I've been forgiven.
Maya: I won't—I don't—forget. And I will not put myself in a situation where that can be done to me again. But I understand.
Oprah: I have to say, over the years you've been my greatest teacher. Who have been your greatest teachers?
Maya: My grandmother Annie Henderson, who raised me from ages 3 to 13, and my mother. Vivian Baxter had this incredible anger whenever anybody tried to do her down—but this same woman was so kind. She never laughed at anybody, ever. If the person was fat or black or white or poor, she never laughed at them.
Oprah: Never made fun of them.
Maya: No, no. I liked that in her. Because she had everything—money, beauty, health. And she never laughed at anybody.
Oprah: And you didn't think of yourself as a pretty girl.
Maya: Oh, no. I wasn't a pretty girl. I was six feet tall at 15, you know.
Oprah: So how did you learn to love yourself at that time?
Maya: Well, my brother, Bailey, loved me. My grandmother loved me. And my mother loved me.
Oprah: You wrote in one of your poems that "nobody can make it out here alone."
Maya: Amen. Nobody but nobody makes it out here alone.
Oprah: Everybody needs somebody.
Maya: And that's how love heals. The love of the family, the love of one person can heal. It heals the scars left by a larger society. A massive, powerful society.
Oprah: Where do you go for solace, for comfort? Are there books that you read? When Maya Angelou needs comforting, where does she turn?
Maya: I'm a student of Unity, the Unity Church. I took a course on Unity about two years ago online. Not to become a member or a minister but just to understand more deeply. There's a book called Lessons in Truth [a core text of the Unity Ministry]. And in the book there is a line, which is "God loves me." Years ago, I read it to my then mentor, the late Frederick Wilkerson. And he said, "Read it again. Read it again. Read it again." And finally I said, "God loves me" [crying]. It still humbles me that this force that makes leaves and fleas and stars and rivers and you, loves me. Me, Maya Angelou. It's amazing. I can do anything. And do it well. Any good thing, I can do it. That's why I am who I am, yes, because God loves me and I'm amazed at it. I'm grateful for it.
Oprah: In Mom & Me & Mom, you write on the last page that Vivian Baxter deserved a daughter who had a good memory. I loved that you ended that way.
Maya: And that's what I deserve. And that's what I want you to be. Remember me. Yes. Yes?
Oprah: Yes. Thank you for this talk. I love you, and you know it.
More from Maya Angelou
We Hear You!