In 2008, we were in the midst of an election year. I am always interested in the women in the shadows of the men who stand in the light. I guess I have always appreciated the fact that whatever their political beliefs their lives resemble mine and they live in a more public place than I do which I am certain adds to the challenge of managing their personal lives. When I heard that Michele Obama was visiting my town to campaign for her husband who would eventually be elected president, I had to figure out how to make it to the event. I had to find friends to pick my kids up from school and activities in order to free up my schedule and allow me to feed my curiosity.
I was excited about going to hear her speak because I was rooted in student government in high school and college and I love the science of campaigns. I wanted to see what this woman who grew up with modest means in Chicago and graduated from a prestigious undergraduate institution and law school might have to say about why she and her husband should be the next president and first lady. I was impressed with her candor and her regal stature. She was articulate, well-prepared, and warm in her delivery. I thought, hmmm, she seems like a cool lady. My daughter and I have this ongoing list of women who we say could come to a slumber party at our house and just sit around in pajamas and eat cereal with us while we laugh and watch movies. I thought she could come to our slumber party. Part of me still thought, “She’s campaigning. She has to be that nice and cool.”
Well, when the speech was over, people gathered at the red velvet rope that formed a semi-circle around the podium area for a chance to shake her hand. I joined the crowd at the rope for a chance to get a high five or a hand shake or just a head nod and a smile. I was located close to the exit so
I figured she would be hurried out by secret service agents and I would just tell the story of the time I got close to saying hello to a first lady if her husband won the election. When she reached me, I extended my arms to hug her and she hugged me. I told her that I was proud of her and her husband and that I went to law school with hopes of being in politics. She asked, “What happened?” I was shocked that she responded with a question, but I remained cool. I told her that I married a football coach and that everything changed. She asked, “Do you have children?” I answered yes and that I made a decision to stay home with my kids. She said, “Don’t give up on your dream. It will come back to you.” Oh my gosh! I couldn’t believe it! She “saw” me! Yeah, she saw me physically, but she “saw” me at a deeper level. She saw my struggle with a dream denied and a decision to follow and a support my husband to live out the calling on his life that ultimately became my calling. I got back to my car and I cried. Life in the shadows can make you feel invisible and alone. I was overwhelmed that I woman who could have just walked by me with a smile and a nod or given me an “Oh that’s nice” took the time to speak to my soul and encourage me.
I thought, “Isn’t that what we all want in life?” Don’t we just want someone to “see” us, to get us, and to affirm us? Michelle Obama has greeted thousands of people since 2008 and she probably won’t remember me or the sixty-second exchange we shared, but I will. I will not forget that she heard my needy spirit and she listened with the heart of a woman who understood sacrifice and the need to encourage another woman to hold on.
So, the answer to the question my kids asked was that the event was really good and life-altering. I told them my initial impressions of Michelle Obama and about what happened after the speech. As I recall, they thought it was cool that I got that close to her, but the rest of my comments probably went in one ear and out of the other one. Ha! The takeaway for my kids was that no matter how successful you think you are or how high up the proverbial ladder you climb, don’t miss an opportunity to uplift someone in your space because you don’t know how an encouraging word or gesture will positively influence the life of the person on the receiving end. I really believe that the one minute exchange with Mrs. Obama gave me a surge in my energy level and a desire to adjust my goals to fit the situation in which I found myself. Two questions and a comment from one of the busiest women in the world gave me hope to keep working out my dream.
I have a gift of encouragement and I work to encourage people in my space as often as I can. Whether the targets of my efforts believe or not, my goal is always to uplift people in my space, but especially the young people I encounter. The goal is to give them a space that is without judgment, yet abounding in transparent real talk that speaks truth to their souls and respects their intellect. My goal is to help young people and folks who live in the shadows understand that sometimes life doesn’t look like we thought it would which doesn’t make us feel great, but holding on to a goal and massaging it to fit our current situations while press forward is important. I believe that children need grown folks to “see” them and “hear” the cries of their souls for structure, hope, and affirmation. Thank you Michelle Obama for not letting your platform interfere with your ability to “see,” “hear,” and encourage this SisterInTheShadow!