It’s the morning after and I am back home in Boston, dazzled and stunned by my meeting with Mrs. Michelle Obama, yesterday, at the 100th First Lady's Luncheon in Washington, D.C., Washington Hilton.
The whole exchange might have lasted 90 seconds, but I find myself going over it again and again in an attempt to capture every second and word, every gesture the First Lady made as she listened to my colleague, Leora Skolkin-Smith, and I, introduce ourselves as writers and novelists; how we were giving her copies of our books; how we believed in the importance of literary arts, and how much we admired her. The exchange was genuine, an impromptu conversation monitored by security, across a dividing rope, in a massively crowded ballroom. Maybe that’s what made it extra thrilling and vital—a sense that Leora and I had seized this totally unexpected moment. (With special thanks to Leora for hunting down the First Lady's staff assistant.)
I have always liked the First Lady, but now I love her.
Not only is she physically beautiful—okay, she wore a rose-colored, ¾ length dress that was gasp-worthy, an off-the-shoulder cut, form-fitting around the torso, then billowing from the waist to her calves, but it’s her inner glow and warmth and realness that won me over. The First Lady possesses a centeredness that embraces you. Her ability to focus, to be present, is arresting. In a room of more than 1000 women and a handful of men—this was the 100 Congressional Club Luncheon, an annual event for spouses of members of Congress—Mrs. Michelle Obama is confident, grounded, intelligent, caring, and connected. She's the real deal, folks.
Afterwards, Leora and I kept asking ourselves: did this really happen? The eye contact? Yeh. Yeh. Those gentle fist pumps, and thumbs up, that nod and smile to her assistant to let her know that she wants our novels to clear security? Yes. Yes. Yes.
None of this would have happened without the supreme generosity of Kimberly Vertolli, who opened her home to Leora, Marta and I (Marta is a physical therapist who drove all the way from Texas to attend), and took the three of us as her guests. Kimberly is a knock-out force herself. An attorney who specializes in Maritime law, she graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and served as a Naval Intelligence Officer from 1995-2000. Her first assignment was at the Pentagon where she served as a liaison for the Chief of Naval Operations, handling visits from foreign naval attaches and other dignitaries.
|Kimberly Vertolli, our fabulous host|
A quick recap of the luncheon—a 2.5 hour gala with military colors and band; a catwalk in which Mrs. Obama was escorted by a military official to her seat at the front of the room; a short, heartfelt speech by the First Lady who once again spoke of the challenges for military families and the importance of giving service to our communities; and, after the meal, a musical performance by country singer Lee Ann Womack who sang several songs including her famed #1 country hit: I Hope You Dance.
We left with gifts in hand (a handbag, navy blue apron with 100th Congressional Club stitched on, Texas chili mix, and custom-designed bow tie pin signifying friendship). I don't think of myself as a political person, but the truth is, Mrs. Michelle Obama and her husband, the President, have made me proud to be American again.
|Kimberly (l) Moi, and Marta|
|Leora and Marta|