When Michelle Obama was quite young, she began to learn to play the piano, taught by her very strict aunt who lived downstairs. The piano on which she studied and practiced had chips and imperfections that enabled her always to find the middle C, sort of grounding her and guiding her. When she had her first formal recital, she suddenly found herself seated at a perfect, symmetric and distinctly un-chipped piano, and had to pause and figure out what to do to find her way. With the help of her teacher/aunt, she managed to steady herself and to play her piece with great success. This became a sort of metaphor for her life. Michelle Obama has always worked hard, relied on important mentors to guide her, and whenever she encountered obstacles, she leaned on those she loved and who loved her to help her regain her center of gravity and succeed in a dramatic fashion.
Mrs. Obama’s story is a rags to riches story in some ways, but in many ways it is not. It is true that she was raised in a poor neighborhood in Chicago and she may not have had much in the way of what money could buy. On the other hand, however, she was rich in the ways that really mattered. She had a loving family with mother, father and brother and many extended family members who were quite close and affectionate. Her mother strongly advocated for her so that she was able to access an excellent education, which enabled her to attend Princeton and Harvard Law School, where she was able to raise her financial standing, in spite of where she came from. She acquired an incredibly strong work ethic and was generous about helping others come along with her, rather than stepping on others to get ahead. Her constant mission was to find mentors to assist her with moving forward, but also to then pay it forward and mentor others in return. And each position that she held after her first job out of law school helped her to dive deeper and deeper into fields in which she could do good for others, which seemed to always be her driving force.
The discouraging part for me, of course, is the contrast between what was then and what is now. The Obama’s were devoted to their country, both working so very hard to try to make things better for the people they were serving, both working to expand human rights, to give access to health care, to create jobs and improve the environment and to promote peace. Barack Obama surrounded himself with wise advisers and listened to the advice of others and was thoughtful and respectful to others and read incessantly to learn as much as he could about an issue so that he could make the most informed decision.
Sadly, this is not what is happening in our White House now.
So while this book was inspiring, it was also quite sad, as it reminded me of what we’ve lost since 2016.
The Obamas were smart, dedicated to our country and to humanity, and were a class act. I hope we find our way back to this again.