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.
|Kimberly (l) Moi, and Marta|
|Leora and Marta|
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.