Reading Michelle Obama’s memoir

Since she became a public figure during the first presidential campaign of her husband, I have felt an affinity with Michelle Robinson Obama. While on the surface it would seem that an African-American woman from the South Side of Chicago couldn’t have much in common with a European-American from a tiny New England town, there are a number of similarities. We are close in age, having been born in the last few years of the Baby Boom. I have long felt that we youngest of the Boomers, who were young adults during the Reagan recession when unemployment was high and mortgage rates even higher, are fundamentally different from the elder members of our cohort. Michelle and I are both mothers of two daughters and women who have been blessed with a close and long relationship with our own mothers. We have close women friends and mentors. We are both community-minded, and also recognize the importance of educational opportunity for ourselves and others. We each have a long, loving, and intact marriage. And we are both women of our time, which means we have experienced sexism and the challenge of tending to both our private and public lives.

Becoming, Michelle Obama’s memoir published late last year, reinforces my sense of her on all these points. She writes honestly and beautifully; I was especially impressed with the way she wrote about her feelings about what was happening and not just the events themselves. She also frequently gives context of what happens either before or later with a particular place or event, such as the changes over time in her South Side neighborhood.

I particularly enjoyed reading about Michelle’s childhood, teen, and college years, as the stories from that time before she was a public figure were mostly new to me. I also appreciated knowing how she felt about many events and causes during the campaigns and her eight years in the White House, as well as her take on the current president.

What was most enlightening to me was hearing how being a black female impacted her life at every stage and added to the pressure to excel and to be an exemplary person at all times. As the first African-American first family, it seemed that every move the Obamas made was scrutinized. I admire that Michelle and her mom, who was also in residence at the White House, were able to protect First Daughters Malia and Sasha from most of the intrusiveness of the press corps so that they could grow up (mostly) out of the public eye.

Many people share my admiration for Michelle Obama and her accomplishments. Her book tour includes venues that seat thousands of people and her book has sold over three million copies, making it the bestseller of 2018.

She can definitely add best-selling author to her already impressive resume.

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the privilege of (private) mistakes

We all make mistakes.

After the problem at the Oscars last night, mistakes are in the news, so I have been thinking about mistakes a lot today.

Most of us lead our lives in a small, mostly private sphere. When I make a mistake, it is usually straightforward to correct it and move on.

I’d hate to think of what my posts would look like if I couldn’t correct my mistakes…

A simple mistake of handing someone the wrong envelope last night led to a few minutes of confusion before the situation was corrected, but having millions of people viewing that mistake must have made it very difficult for those involved.

Still, the solution was fast and there was no lasting damage.

Other mistakes are not so easy to rectify.

Last night, 60 Minutes was re-showing a segment on people who have been exonerated after long prison sentences. Such grievously mistaken convictions are not so easy to rectify. Some states try to award money to the person, while others don’t even do that. Still, no amount of money can replace decades of lost life with family and friends, a chance for a career or for building a family, being able to choose what to eat and where to travel, to have contact with others on a regular basis, all the stuff that we take for granted as we build our adult lives.

One man, exonerated by ballistics testing after thirty years in prison, made his first stop after being released his mother’s grave. Nothing could ever replace the precious time he lost, locked away from her.

One of my current worries is mistakes from the White House, which can have massive consequences.

For example, mistakes with the executive order on immigrants and refugees sent some people back to dangerous situations. A mistake made in international relations could even lead to armed conflict.

People who are in positions of public authority don’t share the luxury that I have of making – and correcting – mistakes in private. Therefore, they must be particularly diligent to be thoughtful and considered in everything they say and do.

The new administration is not there yet.