Thursday, November 7, 2019


"KNOW [O men] that the life of this world is but a play and a passing delight, and a beautiful show, and [the cause of] your boastful vying with one another, and [of your] greed for more and more riches and children.  Its parable is that of [life-giving] rain: the herbage which it causes to grow delights the tillers of the soil; but then it withers, and thou canst see it turn yellow; and in the end it crumbles into dust.  But [the abiding truth of man's condition will become fully apparent] in the life to come: [either) suffering severe, or God's forgiveness and His goodly acceptance: for the life of this world is nothing but an enjoyment of self-delusion". (al-Hadeed 57:20)

This would have been the third and final part of Between Aisha and Michelle but the caption has to change to encompass first ladies in the State House as well as all Government Houses across the states. What I will do in this first part is to quote copiously from Becoming those paragraphs that depicted the meaning of the verse in the above epigraph. Let every first lady ponder over her condition before her husband ascended the throne and know that four or eight years is just like tomorrow. The first family will leave the scene for another set of a first family; as part of the vicissitudes which Allah causes to follow one another for mankind. (Aali-Imraan, 3:140)

Don’t forget where you were before you became the First Lady for all this will be over as quickly as it started, at the expiration of your husband’s first term or certainly after his second and final term. Only the unthinking supposes a mirage in a desert to be water. It is when he reaches it and finds no water that he discovers himself once again. (An-Nur, 24:39)

In a minute, after the hand of your husband is placed on a Qur’an or a Bible and an oath repeated, your life is changed forever. Michelle experienced that change when she came to the airport for the first time to receive the newly elected President Obama: “…and I turned to look.” She said, “Exactly on cue, something massive came around the corner: a snaking, vehicular army that included a phalanx of police cars and motorcycles, a number of black SUVs, two armoured limousines with American flags mounted on their hoods, a hazmat mitigation truck, a counterassault team riding with machine guns visible, an ambulance, a signals truck equipped to detect incoming projectiles, several passenger vans, and another group of police escorts. The presidential motorcade. It was at least twenty vehicles long, moving in orchestrated formation, car after car after car, before finally, the whole fleet rolled to a halt, and the limo stopped directly in front of Barrack’s parked plane.” 

For those eight years of Obama’s presidency that was how he moved and travelled. “I had yet to grasp that Barack’s protection was still only half-visible.” Continued Michelle “I didn’t know that he’d also, at all times, have a nearby helicopter ready to evacuate him, that sharpshooters would position themselves on rooftops along the routes he traveled, that a personal physician would always be with him in case of a medical problem, or that the vehicle he rode in contained a store of blood of the appropriate type in case he ever needed a transfusion.” This car, the presidential limo, just ahead of Barack’s inauguration, was “upgraded to a newer model - aptly named the Beast - a seven-ton tank disguised as a luxury vehicle, tricked out with hidden tear-gas cannons, rupture-proof tires, and a sealed ventilation system meant to get him through a biological or chemical attack.” It was then that Michelle realised that she was “married to one of the most heavily guarded human beings on earth.”

On her sojourn as First Lady, Michelle said: “For eight years, I lived in the White House, a place with more stairs than I can count - plus elevators, a bowling alley, and an in-house florist. I slept in a bed that was made up with Italian linens. Our meals were cooked by a team of world-class chefs and delivered by professionals more highly trained than those at any five-star restaurant or hotel. Secret Service agents, with their earpieces and guns and deliberately flat expressions, stood outside our doors, doing their best to stay out of our family’s private life. We got used to it, eventually, sort of - the strange grandeur of our new home and the constant, quiet presence of others.”

Then, suddenly, as if from the blues, this grandeur and exquisite taste that the Obamas became accustomed to over the eight-year period in the White House - a fleeting comfort of the life of the world - “it was over. Even if you see it coming, even as your final weeks are filled with emotional good-byes, the day itself is still a blur.” As if they had not dwelt there. “One president’s furniture gets carried out while another’s comes in. Closets are emptied and refilled in the span of a few hours. Just like that, there are new heads on new pillows - new temperaments, new dreams. And when it ends, when you walk out the door that last time from the world’s most famous address, you’re left in many ways to find yourself again.” 

And so it was, that after eight years the Obamas moved out of this state of power and felicity, from the White House a “redbrick house” “on a quiet neighborhood street.” 

Now the First Lady was alone with the family dogs; no retinue, no hovering crowd and guards. “And I was hungry.” The former First Lady said, “I walked down the stairs from our bedroom with the dogs following on my heels. In the kitchen, I opened the fridge. I found a loaf of bread, took out two pieces, and laid them in the toaster oven. I opened a cabinet and got out a plate. I know it’s a weird thing to say, but to take a plate from a shelf in the kitchen without anyone first insisting that they get it for me, to stand by myself watching bread turn brown in the toaster, feels as close to a return to my old life as I’ve come. Or maybe it’s my new life beginning to announce itself.” 

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