Photo: mickyteam/Shutterstock

Michelle Obama Made Me Cry

United States Travel
by Julie Schwietert Mar 14, 2009

I was at the grocery for seltzer and spinach.

I wasn’t planning to buy the Oprah Magazine,and my husband rolled his eyes when I grabbed it impulsively and added it to our basket.

But Michelle Obama was on the cover with Oprah and that was a big deal because Oprah has appeared on the cover alone (or with her dogs) for 105 issues.


And I was sold.
And so that’s why I’m on the subway, reading O’s interview with Michelle– I don’t have to call her First Lady, do I?; I feel like we’re on familiar, less formal terms–and I don’t know it yet, but I’m about to start crying.

She talks about White House pie (sinfully good, available at any hour) and furniture (needs to be livable–gotta be able to build a fort out of White House pillows!), but most of all, she talks about people.

And what she says sounds familiar and moving because it’s the refrain of the Obama campaign that we know was more than a sound bite: “This–all of it– is about the people.”

“How are you a different woman today than you were when Barack Obama announced his candidacy in 2007?” Oprah asks.

Michelle replies:

“I’m more optimistic. More hopeful. It comes from traveling all over America and connecting with so many different people…. This was the kindness of strangers. I think we should all have to get to know one another around kitchen tables. It changed me. It’s helped me to give other people the benefit of the doubt…. I saw our shared values. We fundamentally want the same things for ourselves and each other….People value their communities. They’re rooting for one another….”

And that’s what makes me cry. I know that feeling of traveling and connecting–over hot tortillas in Teotitlan del Valle, Mexico, over thimble size shots of coffee and compact, hand shaped arepas steaming on almendra leaves on the side of the road in Mompox, Colombia, over a hot pot in Fuzhou, China, where 7 people I don’t know are all dipping their chopsticks into the bubbling broth.

It’s why I travel, I suppose–to sit down with people over food and connect, and in that act, to be changed.

I finished the interview, closed the magazine, and tucked it into my bag. I smiled at the woman sitting across from me and she returned the smile. I thought about what it might be like if we all met around kitchen tables…with a good slice of pie to share between us.

Community Connection:

What’s a travel moment that has changed you, compelling you to give other the benefit of the doubt or recognize your shared values and needs? Share your experiences below.

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