Amanda Gorman ended the poem she wrote for President Biden’s inauguration ceremony, with the words
For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.
I was reminded of Amanda Gorman’s inspiring challenge when I read the title of Michelle Obama’s new book The Light We Carry. In it the former First Lady says we all carry light and we need to share it, reaching out to genuinely connect with others and together doing the work to change the future.
Amanda Gorman talks about being brave enough to ‘be the light’ and really that’s what Mrs Obama is addressing in her book. She looks at what things can prevent us from sharing our light and how can we overcome those things. Here are just four of the things she says can stand in our way of ‘being light’.
Don’t let fear stand in your way.
When her husband wanted to run for president he put the decision squarely in his wife’s lap. His family meant more to him than political office and if Michelle told him not to run he wouldn’t. Mrs Obama said she was utterly terrified at that point, incredibly fearful about what her husband’s possible presidency would do to their family, in particular her daughters.
What would have happened if she hadn’t overcome her fear?
She encourages readers to be comfortably afraid. “Be afraid of the things that can actually cause you danger, but be open to the things that can push you forward – there’s real powerful growth on the other side of that feeling of fear.“
Don’t let physical challenges stand in your way.
Michelle Obama’s father had multiple sclerosis and in her book, she tells us his story emphasizing the way he never let his chronic illness stand in the way of providing a loving home and a strong, supportive family for his children.
She also talks about the way her physical height has set her apart and made her feel unattractive. She bemoans the fact that so many women are critical of their own physical appearance and uncomfortable with how they look. It is something she works at overcoming every day and encourages other women to learn to love themselves for who they are.
Don’t let anxiety and worry stand in your way.
Mrs Obama talks about how the pandemic caused her chronic worry tendencies to bloom and flourish. One way she coped with that was to take up knitting. She says crafts like knitting can ease stress and help you escape from a negative mental space. Knitting helped her discover “how fulfilling it can be to turn small stitches into something big and beautiful”.
Don’t let your critics stand in your way.
Mrs Obama has had plenty of critics. She says that no matter how calm she tried to be, no matter how hard she worked as the First Lady, no matter how friendly she was or how often she opened the White House to everyone, certain people continued to portray her as an aggressive angry black woman unworthy of their respect.
In her famous speech at the 2016 Democratic Convention Michelle Obama coined the phrase, “when they go low, we go high,” as a way to respond to critics. She still believes that is true but reminds readers that the phrase does nothing if we only repeat it. It means committing ourselves to do the hard work it takes to bring about a brighter future and overcoming the influence of those who spread negativity.
There were so many nuggets of wisdom I collected from The Light We Carry and so many ways Michelle Obama’s experience connected with my own. I am sure you will find that same wisdom and sense of connection when you read her very relatable book.