Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Like millions of Americans, I was glued to my television during the Oprah interview with Elizabeth Edwards. How did she feel when she found out he had destroyed their family? Did she stay with him? What did she tell her children? Has he been begging for forgiveness since that bleak day in 2006 when he admitted to being unfaithful?
I held my breath as Oprah slipped out of her car in front of the Edwards' beautiful home in North Carolina. The family lined up outside their front door to greet her, the picture of perfection. Oprah warmly greeted John, Elizabeth and their two younger children. I found myself wanting Oprah to refuse John's handshake, to not smile so openly at his welcoming. I'm sure many people were sharing the same thoughts. How could this man cheat on his cancer stricken wife? How could he destroy his family and his career, a career that is built on public perception and honesty.
The mistress in question was wild enough to provide enough material for a character in a Jay McInerney novel, a woman with loose morals and a sexually boisterous life. A woman who saw waiting for the results of an STD test as a good time to take a "short" break from her sexual conquests. A woman who waited outside of a hotel for a married man.
We can all assume he was seduced. But are we to forgive him and excuse his behavior because he was overwhelmed by a woman who felt it appropriate to hit on a married man? Are we to forgive John Edwards because up until then he had been a good father and husband with a good job and shiny hair? Upon meeting him, Oprah asked if she could speak with him later. "We'll see," he replied with a smug smile as he took a step backward. I wanted him to wipe the slimy smile off his face and be accountable. Later on, Oprah asked him if he feared losing Elizabeth when he admitted his infidelity. He paused, and in that moment, I lost any remaining respect I may have had for him. There should have been no pause, no thinking, no subtle gestures to depict a thoughtful answer. He should have answered immediately, without the slightest hesitation, "YES! I was terrified I would lose her!" It should have spilled from his mouth in one fluid breath as though it sits on the tip of his tongue at all times. In that simple, momentary pause, I saw a man who did not regret his indiscretion. I saw a man who regretted getting caught.
We naturally defend and support Elizabeth's decision to stay with her husband. Her battle is already arduous and long. It is a battle against an invisible enemy, a cancer in her bones. She is sick. She is dying. She doesn't want to break apart her family and bring that unhappiness into her life. But John already brought that unhappiness in. He opened the door for it and stood their smiling.
What about Elizabeth? What about her legacy? The memories she will leave her children. Doesn't she want to teach her daughters that staying with a man who cheats is forgiving the unforgivable? Doesn't she want to teach her son that if he betrays the woman he loves he will lose her forever?
There is no question that Elizabeth Edwards is a woman to admire. She is well-educated and strong, conscientious and graceful. She has poise, confidence and a strength of spirit that shines in her eyes. She is also real and therefore vulnerable. She will make mistakes, she will fail, she will suffer and she will triumph over obstacles. She is the definition of resilience. I can't deny that I wished she had "kicked John to the curb," but I can't fault her for making tough decisions in a difficult time.