Oprah: You see where you fit in life.

Maya: Yes. And I know that whatever I have is a gift. I accept that, and I'm grateful to those who went before me so that I can do what I'm supposed to do for those who are yet to come. That's humility.

Oprah: How is it that you came to be this wise? Because you would say you're wise, wouldn't you?

Maya: Well, I'm en route. I am certainly on the road.

Oprah: Is it because you've paid such close attention in your life?

Maya: I do pay attention. I love wisdom. And you can never be great at anything unless you love it. Not be in love with it, but love the thing, admire the thing. And it seems that if you love the thing, and you don't just want to possess it, it will find you. But if you're in love with the thing, it may run like hell away from you.

Oprah: But if you love it, it looks for you as you look for it.

Maya: That's right.

Oprah: Just listening to you now, I'm thinking, "What is it about Maya?" I think it's that you know yourself.

Maya: Uh—huh.

Oprah: You know that you are supported by something bigger than yourself. That you are loved. That you have the right to stand up for yourself. And that comes from knowing who you are.

Maya: And I not only have the right to stand up for myself, but I have the responsibility. I can't ask somebody else to stand up for me if I won't stand up for myself. And once you stand up for yourself, you'd be surprised that people say, "Can I be of help?"

Oprah: That is true. I love your intolerance of whining. I've never forgotten what you told me: "Whining is just unbecoming."

Maya: It lets the brute know there's a victim for him in the neighborhood!

Oprah: As you know, my daily quest for the show and this magazine is to help women see who they are. Women tell me over and over, "I feel like I've lost myself. I don't know who I am." How is it that you know who you are? And have you always known since the first words in Caged Bird?

Maya: When I was 19 or 20, a wonderful thing happened to me—terrifying but wonderful. When I was younger, I thought my grandmother was probably God and she just wouldn't tell anybody! She was so strong and kind. And when my grandmother died, I realized that even if I had millions of dollars, I couldn't find her anywhere on earth. And my next thought was that I would die. Oprah, I used to go into my house, see that my son was asleep, and after turning all the locks on the door, I would put a chair under the doorknob. I didn't realize that I was trying to keep death out. Then I began having trouble breathing. I didn't have asthma, but my breathing was labored. Finally, I had to come to grips with what was the matter with me. I looked at my life and thought, "I'm afraid to die." And I concluded that whether I was afraid or not, I would die. I don't think I've ever talked to you about this.


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