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Comments on the Saga of John & Elizabeth Edwards

I don't watch the Oprah Show very often, but several months ago I caught Oprah's interview with the 2008 Presidential Candidate, John Edwards' wife, Elizabeth, who spoke about her book, Resilience, which I read with great fervor. The classy Elizabeth is battling breast cancer, the difficulty living a public life, and the airing of the couple's dirty laundry hung out for public consumption following John's affair with the young Rielle Huneris (a fan who introduced herself by telling John, "You are so hot..." to which started the saga of his extramarital affair). Since the book's publishing and TV interview, a baby was born to the mistress, suspected to be John's. And in the NY Times, as well as other news sources today, it was said that John is planning a wedding with Rielle once Elizabeth dies (article here).

OK... these stories are everyday stories. Scandals. People have affairs. Babies are born out of wedlock. Politicians fall down. Everyone hurts. The world judges. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

We pay attention because we are a public which are voyeurs. We pay attention because within us arises concern about things that could happen to us. We wonder how we are different or if we'd handle things another way than we see others acting and reacting. There are many psychological (dysfunctional) payoffs in the media spotlighting other family tragedies, but I don't think it's such a bad thing to reflect in meaningful ways as consumers of such information and as regular people trying our hardest to get through life being decent people.

I'm blogging about this because it's real stuff. Human stuff. I'm not talking about the DRAMA of it all and the sensationalism... I'm talking closer to the heart... and that there may be positive take aways from these types of stories when we are witness to such difficulties in others' lives. I've followed this story because it is about heroes, forgiveness and bravery, as much as it is about temptation, lust, greed and power. These are the things in life representing the dark and the light... with opportunities for the best to emerge as potential outcome and the demise of lives and legacy having equal billing as a potential outcome. There are so many messages in this story and others like it. It's the makings of a good book or cable TV movie... as a fiction hack, I am drawn to compelling characters and plots with crooked paths and challenges. Through it all, lies the opportunity for people to emerge heroes and heroines.... or, fall to an untimely demise. Life can be so unkind.

A lot of people might ask, why in the world do women who have been scorned get on TV and defend their man with all the associated judgment and public humiliation? Do they not have dignity? Do they not have responsibility.... owe womankind an example of being intolerant of such marital abuses? Hillary Clinton, Silda Wall Spitzer, Jackie Kennedy... are examples in our history of other women who stood by their men in the face of extreme humiliation. These women were not losers or dogs, they were/are bright people. And there has been much publicity for years about their decision to remain loyal.

Yet, consider the converse position: Some women have other reasons for standing by. Could it be financial? Keeping peace with children in the home? Maybe they truly exude forgiveness and love and are optimistic that the affair/misdeed was small enough an infraction that they can recover? I like to think of that... that hope and faith stayed strong despite betrayals. You know, Elizabeth and John are married 32 years. That's a long time. But it is difficult to know why the betrayed stay steady... if reasons are pure and good or for more shallow reasons (fame, money).

My opinion is to lean on the side of compassion. This does not mean I advocate people acting irresponsibly, particularly when they are role models or in a position of leadership and influence... not only is the bar high for moral code when one is married, but it is even higher and subject to greater scrutiny when a person is a figure of the public. Only the strongest will survive the public arenea and you know what? How many heroes really ever led the American people? How many true, blue folks do the right stuff? I'd bet there are quite a number who uphold standards, only we don't see THEM in the news.... only the sexy side of scandal... My God there is so much dirt before our eyes.

But I say this, too. Does a scandal make a person rotten to the core? Can we possibly look beyond the wrongdoing and see a bit of humanity in all of this? Can people still be effective in their work if their personal lives go to pieces? Why or why not?

Elizabeth Edwards is noteworthy. I think she's someone to listen to. I loved her book, and admire her grace. She took the high road and sucked it up... sucked it all up that something really shitty happened in her marriage. It popped her bubble of goodness she believed present in her world. Such a tragedy she faced! The ache... the self-blame and loathing which is a psychological response common among women who were cast aside in favor of a younger lover. And yet, she chose to forgive. She accepted John's weaknesses with love and extreme faith for overcoming this... keeping her family together. The children are young and still so influenced. Her interview... Elizabeth's book... were remarkable words of tremendous strength and choice... but more importantly, honest - so brutally honest. Before you judge her to be some stupid woman standing by her man... learn first what she stands for, why she does what she does. She has self-reflected and came to a level of peace in living the rest of her life.

And to the matter of Miss Rielle. We don't know much about her... I try to be fair. If you haven't read the Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, then do. It's a masterpiece of literature and it speaks to being a woman adultress from the adultress's position. I remember reading The Scarlett Letter in high school and from that, realizing the power of classic fiction to inspire thinking. It is so easy for society to judge behavior because we have social norms, we are led by Biblical teachings and we have honored traditions we uphold. But do not mistake the fine guidance that most of us try to adhere to as the be-all/end-all... we are NOT God and can hardly judge.

Do not judge a man until you walk a mile in his moccasins. - Old Indian wise saying

We all have our own opinions about what people "should" do that, seem the right thing for them. I wonder if, as you've read all I've written here (particularly with regard to the compassion part), if you think I'd stay with John Edwards if I were Elizabeth and just roll over, accepting "what is" (oh I hate that phrase, "It is what it is") Truth is, I wouldn't stay. In the case of Elizabeth, despite that I admire her loyalty and bravery, if I were her, I'd leave the man and take my kids.... in part, because I'd realize our love wasn't strong enough to hold together, or that the relationship had run its course in 32 years, and maybe we're not meant to be together a lifetime, and in part, because I think he really wants to be with the young lady with his new baby, and in part, I might not be able to get over the entire ordeal and trust again. That's just my two cents worth.

If I were John, I'd be so incredibly embarrassed and sorry and seek forgiveness and speak out to the public in honesty with messages to inspire those who followed his campaign, gave him money, believed in him. And I'd try hard to settle into a more private existence, seeking an authentic life that is true and smaller and sweeter.

If I were Rielle, even in love for John, I'd be unlikely to believe he was capable of having an honorable second marriage/fatherhood and I'd plan on living with my mistake and being a good mom to my baby girl. I'd be sorrowful for the irresponsibility of seeking lust and sex from another woman's man and seek forgiveness of self and a future that is more responsible.

Regardless of what we would do or not do given such a scenario, this blog post is just commentary about the human condition in an imperfect world, riddled with all things we tend to think of as either good or bad.... extreme greed, selfishness, temptation, lust, duplicity against hope, family values, desire to be good, forgiveness, strength, honesty........ it's all intertwined.

There are no easy answers.

It is good to talk about these types of events, read and understand the behaviors of others. It helps each of us define better who we are inside and the things we represent. I truly feel sorry for each of the people in the triangle who are now being publicly beaten up by public opinion. So sad.


Jilly said...

I think people like the misery of others and are just so happy that it isn't happening to them or that it's is happening to someone else too. i think that's why i think lifetime movies have been given their own station now. when something bad happens we all think "poor so and so" but in the back of our minds is the "thank god it isn't my kid." i learned that the hard way when mandolin was diagnosed with her problem.


sheila222 said...

We also think, if they can go through all that they are going through and remain positive, I can certainly do the same with my little problems. I do admire Elizabeth, not for standing by her man or anything like that, but for her strength and dignity and for getting on with her life- as you stated, Doreen. She opened up a furniture store in Chapel Hill last month. That takes guts considering you have had your recurrence. In all of these investigations that are going on, I surely hope that Elizabeth is not dragged into it as a primary participant. I'd even allow John his mistakes if he hadn't been such a sanctimonious creep. And my initial anger at him has evaporated and I feel rather sorry for the pathetic figure he is. He has no moral authority with anyone, a position I am sure he regrets having to resign from.