When you spend six hours a day writing about someone it’s hard not to imagine her here and now, reacting to the same things that amaze and inspire me. So it shouldn’t surprise me that as I watched our First Lady speak to the nation last night, I was thinking of what Byrne Miller would have thought.
She and Duncan watched nothing but PBS, listened only to classical music and quoted Nietzsche and Shakespeare to each other in their own metaphorical language. So I know she would have appreciated the literary flair of Michelle Obama’s words:
“If farmers and blacksmiths could win independence from an empire…if immigrants could leave behind everything they knew for a better life on our shores…if women could be dragged to jail for seeking the vote…if a generation could defeat a depression, and define greatness for all time…if a young preacher could lift us to the mountaintop with his righteous dream…and if proud Americans can be who they are and boldly stand at the altar with who they love…then surely, surely we can give everyone in this country a fair chance at that great American Dream.”
Byrne’s life story could fit in every one of those archetypes. She was the Jewish daughter of immigrants who lost everything in the Depression (which is why she became a burlesque dancer – the start of it all) She protested wars, marched for civil rights – even for communist sympathizers – and recoiled at the thought of government involvement in who we love and how we love them (this debate isn’t new) But mostly I heard her cheering for Michelle Obama as mom-in-chief. She would have cheered this because, by Byrne’s own count, she had adopted more than 100 “kids” along the journey of her life. Even when she could not help her own daughters – one was killed by a drunk driver and the other suffered from schizophrenia – she reached out to help other women, like me.
So last night I felt, in Mrs. Obama’s rhetorical mom-in-chief language, the spirit of a woman who gave everyone she could a fair chance at a different kind of dream: Byrne Miller.