Tuesday, November 12, 2019


Becoming, by Michelle Obama
I read Becoming earlier this year, and I loved it. Although her family did not have much money or resources, she grew up in a family of deep, consistent love on the south side of Chicago, rich in memories.

A few of my most vivid memories of the book were when she learned how to play the piano from her strict Great Aunt Robbie, who had a strict protocol about lessons. The students could not move ahead in the book until they had accomplished a particular song. This struck Michelle as particularly boring and unfair, so she played ahead in the book and got in trouble. I could relate so much to Michelle's reaction, chafing at this rule! Some rules are meant to be broken!

At her first piano recital, Michelle learned her family's circumstances were not like everyone else's. Great Aunt Robbie's piano had a chip to mark the middle C. Sitting at a beautiful grand piano for the recital, Michelle panicked because she could not find middle C. Great Aunt Bobbie came to her rescue, pointing out the C. 
“Maybe she knew that the disparities of the world had just quietly shown themselves to me for the first time." 
She and her brother Cliff shared a small bedroom, jerry-rigged into two extremely small areas. Her parents were strict but she always felt loved, and although her dad became ill with multiple sclerosis, he continued to work tremendously hard for as long as he could. Michelle followed in her parents' hard-working footsteps, committed to academic excellence, and earned two Ivy League degrees.

I admired her self-awareness when she realized, working as a corporate lawyer, that this life was not for her. After meeting a much more laid-back and carefree Barack and losing her best friend from college to cancer, she reinvented herself and her career. I enjoyed learning about Michelle's professional life and aspirations--we heard so little about the real Michelle when she was first lady.
“For me, becoming isn’t about arriving somewhere or achieving a certain aim. I see it instead as forward motion, a means of evolving, a way to reach continuously toward a better self. The journey doesn’t end.” 
Reading about Michelle and Barack's courtship made me smile...they were so different in so many ways, but alike in the ways that mattered. She is still not a fan of politics, but knew that he was meant to be a public servant and would not stand in his way.
Getting ready to hear from Michelle in Portland!
Michelle writes extensively about parenting and balancing her work and family life, especially as Barack was away from home more frequently because of his political career. She was determined to protect her daughters from the privileged life as much as she possibly could.

She also writes about the value of female friendship, which is also sacred to me.
“Friendships between women, as any woman will tell you, are built of a thousand small kindnesses...swapped back and forth and over again.” 
And about how challenging it can be to be a woman:
“Women endure entire lifetimes of these indignities—in the form of catcalls, groping, assault, oppression. These things injure us. They sap our strength. Some of the cuts are so small they’re barely visible. Others are huge and gaping, leaving scars that never heal. Either way, they accumulate. We carry them everywhere, to and from school and work, at home while raising our children, at our places of worship, anytime we try to advance.”
And where "when they go low, we go high" came from:
“Since childhood, I’d believed it was important to speak out against bullies while also not stooping to their level. And to be clear, we were now up against a bully, a man who among other things demeaned minorities and expressed contempt for prisoners of war, challenging the dignity of our country with practically his every utterance. I wanted Americans to understand that words matter—that the hateful language they heard coming from their TVs did not reflect the true spirit of our country and that we could vote against it. It was dignity I wanted to make an appeal for—the idea that as a nation we might hold on to the core thing that had sustained my family, going back generations. Dignity had always gotten us through. It was a choice, and not always the easy one, but the people I respected most in life made it again and again, every single day. There was a motto Barack and I tried to live by, and I offered it that night from the stage: When they go low, we go high.”
I closed the book feeling inspired by the life she has lived, much of it so publicly, and sad for what we have lost as a country.
With my heart full!
My husband and I were extremely lucky to be able to see Michelle when she came to Portland, and it was a night I will never forget! I wiped away tears many times. She designed her book tour so it was a conversation with someone who knew her well. In Portland, it was with Sam Kass, the Obamas' personal chef starting in Chicago, and who designed the garden and healthy cooking at the White House with her. It was funny, poignant, endearing, and intimate, and it filled my heart!
“For every door that’s been opened to me, I’ve tried to open my door to others. And here is what I have to say, finally: Let’s invite one another in. Maybe then we can begin to fear less, to make fewer wrong assumptions, to let go of the biases and stereotypes that unnecessarily divide us. Maybe we can better embrace the ways we are the same. It’s not about being perfect. It’s not about where you get yourself in the end. There’s power in allowing yourself to be known and heard, in owning your unique story, in using your authentic voice. And there’s grace in being willing to know and hear others. This, for me, is how we become.”

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