Michelle Obama

I have a feeling that Michelle Obama is going to be one tough and elegant First Lady.

Someone said that Cindy McCain looks like an unhappy Stepford wife. If you are too young to remember that movie, or too old to remember it, it was a movie about a town in Connecticut where the men figured out a way to replace their wives with robots that looked exactly like their real wives but were always happy and subservient.  They would do anything their husbands asked. This was presented as an ideal society.

Michelle Obama does not always look happy and appears to be anyone’s match.

This is good.

I keep thinking about the “ideal” Celtic goddess — or perhaps woman — who can be both an independent warrior and a mother with a touch of death about her. Other cultures see the divine feminine in these aspects; the Celts are not the only ones.  It might be simply an innate human trait to perceive what one writer has called “the female presence at the heart of reality, at the center of consciousness and culture.” At times this female presence is young, vigorous, powerful, independent, and self-protecting like a maiden before a man (boyfriend, husband, lover) claims a right to take charge of her life. And at other times this female presence reflects a mother who can be the fiercest of warriors when it comes to protecting her children.  She would kill for them.

At a retreat this fall we focused on the goose as a totem for the weekend.  Geese are frightening birds to see antagonized, especially when protecting their goslings.  Their long necks protrude forward like spears, and the massive musculature in their wings (forget the dainty ballerinas in Swan Lake) is terrifying. And they move fast.  Ancient warriors sometimes had helmets shaped as goose heads in this attack position.  Some helmets even had wings on the sides that flapped when the warrior ran. The message to the enemy was clear.

Yes, swans are in the goose family.  Magnificent in their purity and gracefulness, they, like other aquatic birds, are representative of that between-the-world-traveler since they can fly, swim, and walk through three realms.  They are also fierce fighters.  I see in our new First Lady that same gracefulness and strength as she moves through her worlds of wife, mother, campaigner, advocate, and other roles we have yet to see, including that of First Lady.

My favorite photo of Michelle Obama appeared in the newspaper the week before the Democratic National Convention in Denver. She had arrived to rehearse the speech she was to give at the convention. The black-and-white photo shows her in silhouette crossing an empty, unlit stage, bent over as if she were carrying some burden on her back and holding the hand of one of her daughters who, with the other, were traipsing along behind her.  She seemed determined, serious, long-striding, and motherly as she dragged her children into this arena that would televise their family into millions of households across the nation.

The photo had a sense of foreboding about it.  But I never once doubted that whatever disruption will occur in this family because of the whirlwind about to descend on them, she was equal to the task of confronting that disruption and defending her daughters in the process.  As she crossed that stage she looked like a mother swan, followed by her chicks.  I say swan rather than goose because the phrase “mother goose” has connotations related to the innocence of the nursery and its childhood rhymes. I can’t visualize Michelle Obama in a nursery.  She was leading her daughters into the harsh, potentially violent world of American presidential politics.  There is a touch of death about this.  And the swan is fabled for its power to sing when dying. As all presidential families will attest, the move to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue brings a kind of death to normal family life.

I doubt Michelle Obama could be happy as a Stepford wife or a Stepford First Lady for that matter.  I’m looking forward to watching the first African-American family occupy the White House — and the strength and grace that Michelle Obama will bring to it.