One test question for Time readers and subscribers who slogged through the whole Time 100 (the most influential earthings): which profile is the sugariest? There's a real contest between Michelle Obama (by Oprah Winfrey) and Oprah Winfrey (by Diane Sawyer). First, there's the huge picture of Mrs. Obama at the top of the Heroes & Icons section, and complete adoration from Oprah:
Michelle Obama doesn't just inspire us. She affirms us with her intelligence, authenticity, depth and compassion. We see the best of ourselves in her and marvel that no matter what she's doing, she brings 100% of herself to the experience.
I first met Michelle almost five years ago, shortly after Senator Barack Obama's riveting 2004 DNC speech. Long before there was serious talk of a campaign for the presidency, I remember going to the Obamas' house for dinner. I figured there would be takeout since I knew that, like me, Michelle had worked all day. But no, there she was in the kitchen, calm and organized, preparing linguine with shrimp and vegetables.
The woman I witnessed five years ago, with her graciousness, care and attention to detail, is the same woman I visited in the White House in February. Her very presence makes you feel welcome. Her political power is secondary to her heart power, and I salute her for that. I trust her. I know that whatever she gives her attention to, the truth will always be present. She doesn't make false moves.
The joy Michelle, 45, brings to her roles as First Mother and First Lady is what makes her so intoxicating. We want that joy in the roles we inhabit as mothers, wives, workers, daughters and friends. And while we admire those arms and applaud her fashion choices (from J. Crew to top designers), her greatest influence is that she makes us want to be our own best selves — and maybe lift a few weights too.
Watching her on the global stage greeting the Queen and chatting with dignitaries and representing us the way we imagine presenting ourselves on our best day, I was reminded of lines from Maya Angelou's poem "Phenomenal Woman": "It's the fire in my eyes,/ And the flash of my teeth,/ The swing in my waist,/ And the joy in my feet./ I'm a woman/ Phenomenally."
How sweet it is that America has a First Lady who embodies the vibrancy and confidence of a seriously prepared 21st century woman. A phenomenal woman indeed.
Diane Sawyer's tribute to Oprah in the same Heroes & Icons section was slightly smaller, but equally embarrassing in its willnigness to unfurl every adjective that springs to mind:
It's no wonder she's the only person to appear on this list every year since it began. She's always moving forward, seeking, changing — like the great explorers who reset the horizon every time they sailed.
This month Oprah, 55, will broadcast her 4,270th hour of national television, a conversation with America that began in 1986. Her curiosity is undiminished. So is her passion for healing the bruised parts of the world and wielding truth against the bruisers.
This past year, for the first time, she publicly supported a presidential candidate, knowing full well the risk but unable to imagine any point to having power if you won't put it on the line for something you believe in....
How on earth can you summarize Oprah? If she were a destination, it would be the place where joy serves the world's great need.
And if she were your next-door neighbor, she'd pad over in pajamas, help you finish the bag of potato chips and laugh with you about the mistakes we all make on the road to learning something new.
It's said the average human has 100,000 heartbeats a day. Oprah may not have more of them than the rest of us, but each one is powered by purpose. And every year, somehow she reminds us anew of the song that plays in our best dreams.