I recently witnessed the unveiling of Maya Angelou's portrait at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Afterward, she sat proudly onstage in a sleek, gold-speckled black evening dress as Johnnetta Cole, director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art, asked her questions about life and love and what really matters. At 86, Maya is sharper than ever—her wit, her wisdom, her overall understanding of what it means to live all the way. Full blast!

I watched and listened and soaked it all in, surrounded by Stedman, Gayle, Gayle's daughter Kirby, and a host of other friends who had come to share in the historic moment. And I walked away thinking how blessed I am to have had Maya Angelou as a teacher, mother/sister, and friend since my 20s. I have learned more from her than from anyone else. Many of the most important things I know for sure were gleaned from conversations with her.

"When people show you—or tell you—who they are, believe them the first time" is my all-time favorite. ("Baby," she once chided me, "they show you and show you, and you still don't believe what you see! Why does it take you 29 times?" That conversation was life changing for me.)

What I realized at the Smithsonian: Her greatest lesson—besides her gems of insight and inspiration—is the way she has approached aging, with such acceptance and assurance. Several years ago, when I asked her what it was like to turn 80, she said, "Baaaby, the 80s are hot! You want to try and make it there if you can."

She has been an incredible role model for what getting older can be. Never a complaint about anything or anybody. "Be patient with young people," she told us in Washington. "Don't blame or judge them for what they don't know. Be careful how you speak to them. You were young once, too."

No time with Maya is ever wasted. Whether sitting at her kitchen table and listening to her recite poetry (sometimes her own, but mostly others'—everything from lyrics by Paul Laurence Dunbar to a sonnet by Shakespeare) or watching her speak to an audience of thousands, as she did earlier this year in Texas, I always come away inspired to be more of myself.

Her greatest lesson to me: "You are enough!"

The first time she said that, the words felt strange. "I am enough...of what?" I asked. "You don't need another person, place, or thing to make you whole. God already did that. Your job is to know it."

And that, my friends, is what I now know for sure.

For a special message from Oprah about why 60 is the new 40, download the O app from the iTunes Store.


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