Project Wonderful

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Euglogising Elizabeth

nb: I deleted this post because I thought it was too harsh in light of her death less than 24 hrs after I wrote it. Then, after reading facebook messages from my former colleagues, I thought the best tribute I could pay would be to put it out there honestly.

Normally, I don't think I have the right to weigh in on public figures' personal troubles, but Mrs.Edwards played such a profound role in the shaping of who I am, that I feel somewhat justified.

Elizabeth Edwards lent a narrative element to my life. I identified with her because she was sick. I imagined myself playing first lady to a more charismatic, less intelligent politician, sacrificing my career and my sense of self for the cause. That didn't work out so well for her, and there but for the grace of God go I.

When I met her, she wasn't particularly nice to me, but how nice would I have been to someone praising my husband who had cheated on me while I had cancer and was now asking me to keep it a secret?

Finally, when John Edwards let the other shoe drop and admitted to having an affair, Paul Krugman said this. I would argue it is even more true of Mrs. Edwards. I always got the feeling that she was pushing her husband to be more progressive:

"One more thing: if we do get real health care reform, a lot of people will owe a debt of gratitude to none other than John Edwards. When Mr. Edwards dropped out of the presidential race, I credited him with making universal health care a “possible dream for the next administration.” Mr. Edwards’s political career is over — but perhaps he and his family can take some solace from the fact that his party is still trying to make that dream come true."

Of course, when it comes to that family and gut instincts, I've been wrong before. Mrs. Edwards could be a power grabbing, money grubbing superficial jerk. Maybe she is a jerk, but a progressive one. We've all known a few of those. Like so many people and things from that time, it isn't just black and white (or red and blue). Being sick, after all, doesn't necessarily make one a good person...but it does serve as a reminder that we're human. And so, if only for my own sake, I'm choosing to give her the benefit of the doubt.

Whatever her motivations, Elizabeth Edwards didn't intend this to be her legacy. I'm guessing she had higher hopes for her marriage, her political ambitions, her family. I'm guessing she thought her sacrifices would be worth it. If one or two things had gone differently, she might have been right. Can I really blame her for misjudging John Edwards? After all, so did I. She was progressive, smart, ambitious and had a compelling personal story. Maybe she should have run for office.

So there's a lesson to be learned: Better to make it on your own than with someone who doesn't deserve you. I hope her generation is the last generation of women to have to learn this the hard way.

For all her faults, I'll choose to remember her for what she meant to me at the time and what she could have been.

I feel for you, Elizabeth Edwards, and I honor your legacy. I hope that you and your family find peace.

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