As I watched our First Lady, Michelle Obama, deliver what is arguably one of the most heartfelt, endearing, and riveting speeches in recent history I started to cry for three reasons. 1...as I attended our SOLES welcome back reception for new and returning students and I mixed and mingled, Dr. Green approached me gently reminding me that we need to meet. I felt that tug in my stomach, the one you got when you were younger and an elder started telling you about life. As true as it all may be, you're not sure you want their wisdom just yet. I have such anxiety about opening up more.
My head spun as I held conversations with faculty, new and returning students about classes, summer break, and other such small talk. I heard our librarian Dr. Byrd's voice...she tells me I know everybody and am involved with everything, and I need to be in politics. Again that stomach churn. I have no desire to be in politics, but the though of somehow being able to effect change at such a large (and very public) level makes me panic. I keep hearing Zachary ask "where are you?" I hate attention but I just feel like I am being prepared to handle it. I
think know I will be faced with this sooner rather than later.
When I saw Michelle not only command, but engage her attention I was so inspired. This was about her, in all her many roles, being able to connect to us on the most basic human level. More than that, she did so with grace. It was not boastful, nor (and perhaps for me, most importantly) was she in any way apologetic in her strength.
2...Michelle Obama looks like me. Read: I imagine she uses some mixture of oils and lotion to fight dry, ashy skin. She likely wraps her hair at night and ties it in a satin scarf. But its not just the aesthetics...she grew up with parents who worked extremely hard to see that she succeeded. She is an ivy league graduate with a terminal degree who had/has an incredible job. What does it mean to me to be able to see a black woman be accomplished at something other than having an attitude? What does it mean to see a black woman command a room without cursing, yelling, or exposing her body? What does it mean to see a black woman openly love her black husband, and praise her black father for defining himself by the success of his children? What does it mean to see this highly accomplished black woman prioritize her family above all other professional or personal accomplishments?
Which segues into 3...Michelle and Barack are equally yolked. To use a biblical allusion...but can you think of one better? I love than she is an articulate, intelligent, compassionate, and beautiful woman who standing alone is amazing, but her ability to be all that and part of a greater unit is amazing to me. It suggests to me that its possible to be both passionate career woman and nurturing wife and mother. Hard nosed intellectual and compassionate humanitarian, and all the other dichotomies. It tells me that we are not the either ors people suggest we are (stay at home mom type or working mom type) and that some women do it beautifully. It shows me the kind of woman I hope to be. It also shows me that the kind of man I deserve exists and is seeking a-Me. It is that assurance that I can be my whole self. My true self and still be loved, accepted, sought after and cherished. And I suppose some people will say its an act. Or its media fabrication or that its easy because of the many luxuries afforded to them. I choose to believe the opposite.
So when I cried, it was because here in front of me was a woman who I so admire, telling me through her life that my dream is not only legitimate but attainable. Because here she stood telling a story I connect with of sacrifice, fortitude, and love. I cried because of the embodiment of true grace. Eloquent in delivery, empathic in ethos, it was just everything. That, to me, is worth getting to know myself more. If somewhere in me lies the ability to awaken potential then I want to get to know that part of me.
The fourth reason, then, is because as I watched Michelle I saw my self, and it was a part of me I found so hard to believe in. A part of me that was invalidated and undervalued. A part of me desperately needing voice and affirmation, who is sure of herself and her abilities and who is not ashamed of her vulnerabilities. I was able to see that, me...and I cried at never having seen her beauty and strength before.