I’m close to finishing reading Michelle Obama’s autobiography, “Becoming.” It is an inspiring, intimate story about two people I admire most.
In fact, Michelle and Barack Obama were named the most admired woman and man in 2018, and, from the looks of things, they’re a long way from completing their mission of inspiring hope.
I like to keep abreast of their new challenges and see how they resolve them. I’m grateful to people like them whose goals remain clear every step of the way, and whose passion never recedes in the face of risks and setbacks.
If I seem reluctant to get to the end of Michelle’s book. It’s not because it hasn’t given me enough; I just want the learning by their example not to stop.
Hers is a story of the triumph of a black woman of substance against the barriers of color, gender and stereotyping.
Tall (5’11”), bright—although she had to take the bar twice—and brought up by noble parents, she benefited largely from a mother who listened more than talked. Rather than spell things out for her daughter, she encouraged her to develop the habit of thinking things through for herself.
A loving relationship with an older brother and only sibling, Craig, and a father who worked the same job every day and never complained rounded off her home examples. If she still asked herself, “Am I good enough?” in spite of her high achievements in school (Princeton and Harvard) and at work, it would seem less to do with self-regard than with her quest for that place in which she feels she ought to be.
It couldn’t have been easy for a wife, especially one so accomplished, to step aside for her husband’s mission in life. I cherish most the love story between her and the rare breed of man she chose for her husband. I was thrilled when he surprised her with his proposal and the dates they had to arrange sneakily as first couple.
If the presidency for him was a sort of destiny he had been unwittingly preparing for all his life, First Ladyship was something else for her; it required a conscious effort to become. And it must be for that episode in her life in particular that the title of her book, “Becoming,” was chosen.
I happen to know something about joining lives with, in my own modest experience, a special man.
He and I also come from different backgrounds, so different we could only have met by fate. I come from a rather public family, did college and some further studies abroad. A life that would have languished in wifehood, motherhood, and social matronhood was happily disturbed by him.
He was—and still is, to the extent that age and energy allow—a journalist. It was a calling upon which he happened by accident, one for which he dropped out of early college and prepared on his own, self-studying. He’s made it through the severest tests and trials, always coming out with his integrity intact.
Whenever I watch him on public television or at a podium, questioned on a range of topics, I never worry about what he’ll say: He is made whole and right.
And he gives his simple parents, for all their lack of college education, no small credit for it, in particular a father who, like him, is wise beyond what college could have made of him.
When praised for his skill at argumentation, he always says, “No, it’s not about thinking fast or arguing right; it’s about being on the right side.”
Funny, money, too, was never his motivation for anything, and yet there’s no doubt in my mind that he always knew his true worth. When he speaks whether publicly or privately, I can’t—like Michelle, if you would pardon the comparison—help but beam and feel secretly proud.
Michelle herself didn’t miss a thing about her Barack. She accompanied him, stayed with him, even in his private moments, when he has to act and think presidential; thus, she knew what was going on in his official life.
“He read letters from people who appreciated what he did and from others who wanted to let him know he was an idiot.
“He read all of it, seeing it as part of the responsibility that came with the oath. He had a hard and lonely job—the hardest and loneliest in the world, it often seemed to me—but he knew that he had an obligation to stay open, to shut nothing out. While the rest of us slept, he took down the fences and let everything inside.”
Moments of normalcy
Michelle was wife and mother to two young daughters living in the surreal surroundings of the White House. It was far from normal, but she fought for moments of normalcy and seized every opportunity to give her children and her husband as much as she could of their life before and after his presidency.
When, in her first private moments with Queen Elizabeth, the Queen expressed surprise at how tall she was, she pointed at her high-heeled Jimmy Choos. And when she complained her feet were hurting, the Queen herself admitted her own did, and they both burst out laughing. Thereupon, she put an arm around the Queen’s shoulders, and the Queen put her own around her, as far as they could reach.
It all seemed perfectly natural between them, enjoying a moment of laughter, but turned out to be a big booboo in the eyes of the Brits—touching their Queen.
Michelle’s story doesn’t end with her husband’s presidency. It may have been only the beginning of their never-ending joint mission of giving hope to those who need it most—just by being themselves.