I Couldn’t Have Said It Better Myself! – Becoming by Michelle Obama

Becoming, by Michelle Obama, deserves a post dedicated to profound quotations.  Maybe several posts.  This is gonna get long.  (Worth it.)

I’m going to add some thoughts, if I have them, after the quotations.  My thoughts will be the text … not in quotation marks.  Oh, what the heck!  I’ll put them in italics too, just for you! 😉

I decided to add this to my “I Couldn’t Have Said It Better Myself” series, because, well, duh.  To read the first post, here’s a link!

From: “Preface”

“Now I think it’s one of the most useless questions an adult can ask a child – What do you want to be when you grow up?  As if growing up is finite.  As if at some point you become something and that’s the end.”

pg. ix

This, in a nutshell, is the premise of the entire book.

From: Becoming

“Failure is a feeling long before it becomes an actual result.  It’s vulnerability that breeds with self-doubt and then is escalated, often deliberately, by fear.”

pg. 43

“It takes energy to be the only black person in a lecture hall or one of a few nonwhite people trying out for a play or joining an intramural team.  It requires effort, an extra level of confidence, to speak in those settings and own your presence in the room.  Which is why when my friends and I found one another at dinner each night, it was with some degree of relief.  It’s why we stayed a long time and laughed as much as we could.”

pg. 75

This is what I described as Michelle Obama finding a sense of “home” at Princeton.  Clearly, she said it much better.

“He was white and black, African and American.  He was modest and lived modestly, yet knew the richness of his own mind and the world of privilege that would open up to him as a result.  He took it all seriously, I could tell.  He could be lighthearted and jokey, but he never strayed far from a larger sense of obligation.  He was on some sort of quest, though he didn’t yet know where it would lead.”

pg. 101

I’d be remiss if I didn’t put at least a couple quotations about Barack Obama in here. 😉

“His money went largely toward books, which to him were like sacred objects, providing ballast for his mind.”

pg. 112

Another quotation about Barack.  And one I know we bookish folk can appreciate.

“Inspiration on its own was shallow; you had to back it up with hard work.”

pg. 158

“I walked out of the interview feeling pleased and fairly certain I’d be offered the job.  But no matter how it panned out, I knew I’d at least done something good for myself in speaking up about my needs.  There was power, I felt, in just saying it out loud.”

pg. 202

The preceding and the following quotations are about Michelle Obama’s life as a working mother and the wife of a high-powered politician.

            “When it came to the home-for-dinner dilemma, I installed new boundaries, ones that worked better for me and the girls.  We made our schedule and stuck to it.  Dinner each night was at 6:30.  Baths were at 7:00, followed by books, cuddling, and lights-out at 8:00 sharp.  The routine was ironclad, which put the weight of responsibility on Barack to either make it on time or not.  For me, this made so much more sense than holding off dinner or having the girls wait up sleepily for a hug.  It went back to my wishes for them to grow up strong and centered and also unaccommodating to any form of old-school patriarchy: I didn’t want them ever to believe that life began when the man of the house arrived home.  We didn’t wait for Dad.  It was his job now to catch up with us.”

pg. 207

“When voters got to see me as a person, they understood that the caricatures were untrue.  I’ve learned that it’s harder to hate up close.”

pg. 270

            “I was humbled and excited to be First Lady, but not for one second did I think I’d be sliding into some glamorous, easy role.  Nobody who has the words ‘first’ and ‘black’ attached to them ever would.  I stood at the foot of the mountain, knowing I’d need to climb my way into favor.
            For me, it revived an old internal call-and-response, one that tracked all the way back to high school, when I’d shown up at Whitney Young and found myself suddenly gripped by doubt.  Confidence, I’d learned then, sometimes needs to be called from within.  I’ve repeated the same words to myself many times now, through many climbs.
            Am I good enough?  Yes I am.

pg. 284

“If you don’t get out there and define yourself, you’ll be quickly and inaccurately defined by others.”

pg. 285

“How Barack and I comported ourselves in the face of instability mattered.  We understood that we represented the nation and were obligated to step forward and be present when there was tragedy, or hardship, or confusion.  Part of our role, as we understood it, was to model reason, compassion, and consistency.”

pg. 343

            “Grief and resilience live together.  I learned this not just once as First Lady but many times over.”

pg. 343

            “The whole [conspiracy theory Donald Trump started saying that Barack Obama was born in Kenya, not Hawaii,] was crazy and mean-spirited, of course, its underlying bigotry and xenophobia hardly concealed.  But it was also dangerous, deliberately meant to stir up the wingnuts and kooks.  I feared the reaction.  I was briefed from time to time by the Secret Service on the more serious threats that came in and understood that there were people capable of being stirred.  I tried not to worry, but sometimes I couldn’t help it.  What if someone with an unstable mind loaded a gun and drove to Washington?  What if that person went looking for our girls?  Donald Trump, with his loud and reckless innuendos, was putting my family’s safety at risk.  And for this, I’d never forgive him.”

pgs. 352-353

            “Months after the birther rumors picked up steam, on a Friday night in November, a man parked his car on a closed part of Constitution Avenue and started firing a semiautomatic rifle out the window, aimed at the top floors of the White House.  A bullet hit one of the windows in the Yellow Oval Room, where I sometimes liked to sit and have tea.  Another lodged itself in a window frame, and more ricocheted off the roof.  Barack and I were out that night, as was Malia, but Sasha and my mom were both at home, though unaware and unharmed.  It took weeks to replace the ballistic glass of the window in the Yellow Oval, and I often found myself staring at the thick round crater that had been left by the bullet, reminded of how vulnerable we were.”

pgs. 353-354

The two previous quotations speak to Donald Trump’s negative influence on the Obama White House while they were in office.  Honestly, I think it’s one of the few times in the memoir that Obama was unwilling to forgive.  Her graciousness does have boundaries, but she still shares her anger with poise and elegance.

“Friendships between women, as any woman will tell you, are built of a thousand small kindnesses […], swapped back and forth and over again.”

pg. 361

My female friends will agree with this, I hope!

            “Since childhood, I’d believed it was important to speak out against bullies while also not stooping to their level.  And to be clear, we were now up against a bully, a man who among other things demeaned minorities and expressed contempt for prisoners of war, challenging the dignity of our country with practically his every utterance.  I wanted Americans to understand that words matter – that the hateful language they heard coming from their TVs did not reflect the true spirit of our country and that we could vote against it.  It was dignity I wanted to make an appeal for – the idea that as a nation we might hold on to the core thing that had sustained my family, going back generations.  Dignity had always gotten us through.  It was a choice, and not always the easy one, but the people I respected most in life made it again and again, every single day.  There was a motto Barack and I tried to live by, and I offered it that night from the stage [of the Philadelphia convention center where I was stumping for Hillary Clinton at the Democratic National Convention:] When they go low, we go high.
            Two months later, just weeks before the election, a tape would surface of Donald Trump in an unguarded moment, bragging to a TV host in 2005 about sexually assaulting women, using language so lewd and vulgar that it put media outlets in a quandary about how to quote it without violating the established standards of decency.  In the end, the standards of decency were simply lowered in order to make room for the candidate’s voice.
            When I heard it, I could hardly believe it.  And then again, there was something painfully familiar in the menace and male jocularity of that tape.  I can hurt you and get away with it.  It was an expression of hatred that had generally been kept out of polite company, but still lived in the marrow of our supposedly enlightened society – alive and accepted enough that someone like Donald Trump could afford to be cavalier about it.  Every woman I know recognized it.  Every person who’s ever been made to feel ‘other’ recognized it.  It was precisely what so many of us hoped our own children would never need to experience, and yet probably would.  Dominance, even the threat of it, is a form of dehumanization.  It’s the ugliest kind of power.”

pgs. 407-408

“I’d watched Donald Trump stalk Hillary Clinton during a debate, following her around as she spoke, standing too close, trying to diminish her presence with his.  I can hurt you and get away with it.  Women endure entire lifetimes of these indignities – in the form of catcalls, groping, assault, oppression.  These things injure us.  They sap our strength.  Some of the cuts are so small they’re barely visible.  Others are huge and gaping, leaving scars that never heal.  Either way, they accumulate.  We carry them everywhere, to and from school and work, at home while raising our children, at our places of worship, anytime we try to advance.”

pg. 408

Talking about the election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, Obama used the phrase, “I can hurt you and get away with it” several times.  It speaks to the confidence men often have when approaching women in a threatening manner.

            “As I slept, the news was confirmed: American voters had elected Donald Trump to succeed Barack [Obama] as the next president of the United States.
            I wanted to not know that fact for as long as I possibly could.”

pg. 411

Sigh.  I really connected to the above quotation.  I wanted to sleep through the four years following Donald Trump’s “election.”  I also really feel like this quotation is exactly how I feel right this moment waiting for the results to trickle in (and the impending court cases I’m sure Trump will throw at any unsuccessful results).

            “Hamilton touched me because it reflected the kind of history I’d lived myself.  It told a story about America that allowed the diversity in.  I thought about this afterward: So many of us go through life with our stories hidden, feeling ashamed or afraid when our whole truth doesn’t live up to some established ideal.  We grow up with messages that tell us that there’s only one way to be American – that if our skin is dark or our hips are wide, if we don’t experience love in a particular way, if we speak another language or come from another country, then we don’t belong.  That is, until someone dares to start telling that story differently.
            I grew up with a disabled dad in a too-small house with not much money in a starting-to-fail neighborhood, and I also grew up surrounded by love and music in a diverse city in a country where an education can take you far.  I had nothing or I had everything.  It depends on which way you want to tell it.
            As we moved toward the end of Barack’s presidency, I thought about America this same way.  I loved my country for all the ways its story could be told.  For almost a decade, I’d been privileged to move through it, experiencing its bracing contradictions and bitter conflicts, its pain and persistent idealism, and above all else its resilience.  My view was unusual, perhaps, but I think what I experienced during those years is what many did – a sense of progress, the comfort of compassion, the joy of watching the unsung and invisible find some light.  A glimmer of the world as it could be.  This was our bid for permanence: a rising generation that understood what was possible – and that even more was possible for them.  Whatever was coming next, this was a story we could own.”

pgs. 415-416

Obama tries to “end” on a positive note.  The epilogue, as you’ll see in a moment, does have a mix of positivity and the sad reality that was/is Trump’s presidency.  I thought this quotation was a good synopsis of her story in Becoming.

From: “Epilogue”

“I’ve had more time [since Barack’s presidency ended] to reflect, to simply be myself.  At fifty-four, I am still in progress, and I hope that I always will be.”

pg. 419

            “It’s all a process, steps along a path.  Becoming requires equal parts patience and rigor.  Becoming is never giving up on the idea that there’s more growing to be done.”

pg. 419

These quotations tell me that, no matter how old we get, we can always change and become better than who we were before.  The saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” simply doesn’t apply in real life.

“Since Barack left office, I’ve read news stories that turn my stomach.  I’ve lain awake at night, fuming over what’s come to pass.  It’s been distressing to see how the behavior and the political agenda of the current president have caused many Americans to doubt themselves and to doubt and fear one another.  It’s been hard to watch as carefully built, compassionate policies have been rolled back, as we’ve alienated some of our closest allies and left vulnerable members of our society exposed and dehumanized.  I sometimes wonder where the bottom might be.
            What I won’t allow myself to do, though, is to become cynical.  In my most worried moments, I take a breath and remind myself of the dignity and decency I’ve seen in people throughout my life, the many obstacles that have already been overcome.  I hope others will do the same.  We all play a role in this democracy.  We need to remember the power of every vote.  I continue, too, to keep myself connected to a force that’s larger and more potent than any one election, or leader, or news story – and that’s optimism.  For me, this is a form of faith, an antidote to fear.”

pgs. 419-420

This seems like the best quotation I could end this post with, especially with the anxiety I’m sure people (myself, for sure) are feeling about the election tomorrow.  The best advice I can give others is what Michelle Obama says here: Breathe… and vote.

Obama, Michelle. Becoming. NY: Crown (an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC). 2018.


3 thoughts on “I Couldn’t Have Said It Better Myself! – Becoming by Michelle Obama

    • AH! I haven’t spoken to you in forever! I’m so glad you’re still around.

      I’ll admit – I’m waaay behind on my reviews, so I read this a while ago. But just re-reading the quotations put my heart back on the roller coaster I experienced while reading it. It’s absolutely earned a permanent place on my bookshelf. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

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