Saturday, 23 February 2019

Me, Us, We

Michelle Robinson Obama's best selling memoir, Becoming (2018) was at the top of my wish list. I have delighted in reading it and come away utterly inspired by its author.

As a young girl, Michelle grew up in Chicago's South Side with her beloved older brother Craig and their devoted parents. Dad Fraser worked maintaining boilers at a water filtration plant who endured his increasingly debilitating multiple sclerosis with quiet grace. Mum Marian was a homemaker who taught her children to be independent thinkers.

Michelle excelled at school, went on to earn a Bachelor degree at Princeton before heading to Harvard Law School. Upon graduation she worked as a IP lawyer for several years before realising she wanted to use her talents in a different way and sought out work in the non-profit sector. She has spent her life as an advocate for those marginalised by race, class, gender and ability.

Meeting Barack Obama was a changing point in her life. His life story was so different to hers. They yinged-and-yanged, balancing each other out. His unrelenting optimism and her self doubt, his leaning in to chaos and her desire for order, his need for solitude and her need for closeness. Their 25 year partnership allowed them to weather the highs and lows of politics and the long absences his job imposed, but also the personal challenges of family illnesses, deaths, miscarriage and infertility.

In 2008 the Obamas arrived in the White House. The first African-American President and First Lady were always trailblazers. Michelle sought to use her platform as a means to promote causes she cared for - healthy eating and exercise, supporting military families, educating girls. Her memoir details her efforts on the campaign trail, the criticisms she faced, and meeting with the Queen, Mandela and other world leaders. She also describes the efforts the Obamas took to raise their two young daughters in the most 'normal' way possible despite the extraordinary requirements of their eight years in the White House.

Oftentimes memoirs can feel unauthentic, as if poorly ghostwritten. Becoming is refreshingly candid and reading it felt as though Michelle were sitting down and casually sharing her story with me. I laughed and cried with her, felt her insecurities and doubts, and was uplifted by her optimism and hope. I didn't know too much about Michelle Obama before reading this memoir, but I came away in awe of her impact, her quiet leadership, her intellect and eloquence. I don't know what she will do next, but I know she will continue to inspire.