When the pandemic forced everyone inside, Michelle Obama said she felt stuck and searched for ways to cope with an uncertain world.
“You were shut in. You were stuck in your thoughts, and I was no different,” Obama said. “When you have that amount of time alone to think about yourself, your life, your world, for me, I was just spinning.”
To keep herself from spiraling, the former first lady relied on tools she learned growing up with a father who had multiple sclerosis and who faced uncertainty every day.
“When your father is disabled, you are living with a level of uncertainty your whole life,” Obama said, adding that her father never complained about his disability and taught her and her brother an important lesson. “You fall, you get up, you carry on.”
That’s one of the tools Obama shares in her new book, “The Light We Carry: Overcoming in Uncertain Times.”
On Monday night, Obama sat on stage at the Chicago Theatre with David Letterman, who engaged the Chicago native and drew huge laughs from a raucous sold-out crowd.
Letterman introduced Obama, who he called “America’s favorite first lady,” with a story about him accidentally stepping on Obama’s gown during a gala in 2017. At the end of the night, Obama said her gown had been catching on something. “It was probably your chair,” he quipped.
Obama said another tool she picked up from her father was to learn to value herself, even when the world around her wouldn’t, she said. “My dad’s motto was no one can make you feel bad when you feel good about yourself.
“When you’re a Black woman in America, and you’re not wealthy, you have to practice liking yourself a lot,” Obama continued.
She said she had to often lean on her dad’s wisdom during Barack Obama’s first term as president, when media caricatures made her briefly think twice about campaigning with him. “But then I had to think to myself, that would let them win.”
It’s Obama’s confidence and belief in herself that drove Patty Steward to bring her daughter Zoe along to see the former first lady in person, even though tickets to the event were going for as much as $250 on Ticketmaster.com.
“She’s an example of what can be. I brought her to see Black excellence,” Steward said pointing to her daughter. Obama “always has a positive word to say, she’s a Black woman, I’m a Black woman, and to be able to feel that inspiration and that empowerment was important for me to share with my daughter.”
Joel Cencius drove from Milwaukee to see Obama, who he said gives him hope. “I would never miss an opportunity to see her, she’s super-inspirational and just a delightful person to be in the presence of.”
He said he also saw her in 2018 in Chicago. In November of that year, Obama launched the book tour for her bestselling memoir “Becoming” at the United Center, where she was interviewed by her friend Oprah Winfrey. Chicago, particularly the South Side, has remained a touchstone for Michelle Obama. It’s where she and her brother, Craig Robinson, were raised in an apartment at 7436 S. Euclid. Her relatives all lived within a short drive.
Cencius said he enjoyed reading Obama’s latest book and said he appreciated how open she was to readers, displaying a vulnerability that he connected with. Obama opens up a bit more about her personal life in the new book, offering details about her daughters, Malia, 24, and Sasha, 21.
The book reveals that Malia and Sasha are living together as roommates in Los Angeles. Obama writes in generalities — Sasha is in Los Angeles “going to college” and Malia is “working in an entry-level writing job.” Obama said the girls moved in together in 2021, finding “a grown-up place for themselves.” She was “charmed” the girls wanted to live together.
Obama holds another conversation at the Chicago Theatre on Tuesday with author Heather McGhee.
Contributing: AP, Lynn Sweet