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Jewish World Review
May 15, 2009
21 Iyar 5769
When Shame Yields to Resilience
John Edwards wears the scarlet letter on his tailored Armani
suits. The bold letter "A" is not embroidered with fine needlework such as
Hester Prynne sewed for herself. Neither is it reflected on his chest like
the "A" the townspeople of Salem thought they saw, as in Nathaniel
Hawthorne's novel "The Scarlet Letter," when Arthur Dimmesdale confessed his
hidden sin. But it's a ghostly letter that exposes Edwards to public shame
and humiliation written in a wife's pain in Elizabeth Edwards' book,
"Resilience." And what resilience she shows.
John Edwards' adultery is a post-modern morality tale, a
narrative rich in insight and ripe with Torah power. It's relevant
to the public because he ran for the presidency and federal prosecutors are
now investigating whether he "improperly" gave campaign money to the object
of his extracurricular affection. In this morality tale, he has been
"stripped bare," as he put it, enduring not only the lacerations of
conscience but the consequences of public exposure. His story takes us back
The sophisticated elites often mock their religious neighbors
who uphold the Biblical absolutes of right and wrong, who take the Ten
Commandments as doctrine. Commentators with the long fingernails accuse
Elizabeth Edwards of exploiting her family for profit and publicity. Maureen
Dowd mocks her as "St. Elizabeth" in The New York Times. Tina Brown in the
Website The Daily Beast finds her insistence on belittling "the dreaded
'other woman'" as "embarrassingly self-righteous." She "almost" feels sorry
They're looking through the wrong end of the telescope at the
glass, darkly. Elizabeth Edwards may have shared her husband's ambition for
the White House, but not his extracurricular rutting or his cover-up of fun
and games outside their marriage. She was not standing by her man so much as
standing silent, reluctantly, over what she hoped was a "one night stand."
She only later learned he was on a long night's journey into the daylight.
The prophets and poets have said it all before their insights
have become cliches. Pride goeth before a fall, the man with eyes who cannot
see, "the devil made me do it." But Elizabeth Edwards gets her husband, who
was not afflicted merely with "lust in my heart," but something worse.
In a television confessional, he told how in his political
campaigns, "I started to believe that I was special and became increasingly
egocentric and narcissistic." He's a member of a large and
not-very-selective club. Narcissus drowned in a pool when he fell in love
with his own reflection. John Edwards never saw the cracks in the mirror
when he was combing his big hair.
It's his wife's turn now, and though she may ultimately be
singed by the fire of hell's fury, it seems to me that she deserved to write
this book. She has an eloquence in speaking to a culture overwhelmed by the
din of tweetering gossip and trivialized Facebook friendships, where people
come and go, ignoring the depth of character required for true love
validated by marriage.
"Resilience" is no text-messaged document, no hypocritical
defense, and Elizabeth Edwards is no victim. She speaks and writes with a
dignity and toughness that should give her children hope that they, too, can
stand up to the adversities that life throws at all of us. That's her legacy
to her children and to the rest of us.
The multiple blows to her body, mind and heart, the cancer that
terrifies, the trust that was broken, the tragic death of her son at age 16
have neither disillusioned her nor broken her spirit. She fights back the
only way she can in a media-saturated age where celebrity trumps morality.
Elizabeth Edwards, "wife of," writes with the insight and philosophical
acceptance that exposes the shallow ways that politics, for all its
pragmatism, often clouds the vision of the eternal verities.
She finds solace in the grief for her son in support groups on
the Internet, "an ethereal world where no one (has) a physical presence."
This is where she could nurture memory beyond the limited boundaries of
politics. In 2007, when she learned that her cancer had metastasized,
"John's indiscretion seemed a million miles away." The old life was gone
the new life was not yet determined.
This is a book about death, destruction and learning how to rise
again, or as Elizabeth Edwards puts it, putting one foot in front of
another. In a word, "Resilience."
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