Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Elizabeth's Choice

Elizabeth Edwards said this weekend:

"You know, you really have two choices here. I mean, either you push forward with the things that you were doing yesterday, or you start dying."

Why are so many people critical of the Edwardses' decision to proceed full steam with their campaign? In her interview for 60 Minutes, Katie Couric questioned Elizabeth's choice to keep up the campaigning so clumsily and relentlessly that many viewers were taken aback. John Edwards was kind enough to say the questions were honest and fair and what everybody else was asking each other.

Of course, the Edwardses hope that this decision forges an impression of indomitable spirit and beating the odds, the kind of aura a candidate for president needs to get ahead and stay ahead, fending off all comers, no matter how bulldogged the competition.

Well, in the face of chronic illness, a lot of people go on with whatever they want to do most, whether it's garden or compete for a top spot on American Idol, sail around the world or campaign the job of First Lady.

I wish Elizabeth Edwards well. But no matter what happens to her health in the months and, if she beats the odds, years to come, I respect her choice this week.

Elizabeth Edwards is fortunate to have the guts and gumption and good will and ambition to smile in the face of such adversity. A lot of us must envy her, realizing we'd be sitting on the edge of our beds, morose and overwhelmed.

Perhaps she will suffer episodes of being morose and overwhelmed as well, but she knows that she has a rather captivated audience and that her grace will be the most important aspect of her role as wife and campaigner from now on. The issues and even her conviction will not matter as much as her bravery. Hemingway famously defined bravery as "grace under pressure."

I realize that there is much symbolism involved and that Americans consider the First Family to be this culture's royalty, but to be more blunt than even Couric could be, John Edwards does not owe us a healthy wife. He doesn't owe us a family at all. The office is for one person, and Elizabeth is not running for office. She is running for her husband, and that in itself is a fine thing. It is a very courageous and smart kind of love she is showing to a nation that could use more of those virtues.

The implication is that we can focus primarily on extending our lives, or we can focus primarily on making our lives as rich and exemplary as possible. But truth be told, besides a bit of support for keeping one's chin up with a positive attitude and aggressive medical intervention, we don't really "fight" cancer or "beat" it. Doctors and drugs and medical procedures do that work for us.

Cancer may be the leprosy of our times, but it is not rare. It is common, nothing less than a plague. And even without traumatic or chronic illness, as Edwards herself reminded her family and a huge audience, the human condition is fatal. So the trick is to make this month, this season, this year count, not according to the terms or expectations of others, but according to our own terms and desires. As Elizabeth Edwards' legacy legacy belongs to her and to her alone, our legacies belong to each of us alone.

So we might ask ourselves (or ask again): Am I, according to my own terms, making some personal (some might say spiritual) progress? Or am I just drifting along. perhaps consuming more than I am giving back? Am I doing things to challenge and improve myself? Am I growing, whatever that means to me?

I suppose the bottom line is: Am I proud, or how often am I proud, of how I am spending my time, spending my life?


At 3/28/2007 8:54 AM, Blogger Duane said...

Well written and I agree with all you say.

Your Yogi Friend

At 3/29/2007 2:45 PM, Blogger Lawrence said...

Hey Yogi Friend, thanks for stopping by, and I see (at the "What the heck is a spiritual quest?" post of some days back) that this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship....

Welcome to A Better Nation!

At 3/30/2007 5:28 AM, Anonymous rqm said...

Hey, I agree, too. Look at me! Look at me!

At 3/30/2007 6:39 PM, Blogger Lawrence said...

Sorry rqm, not sure what you mean... "Look at me" what?

At 3/31/2007 5:52 PM, Blogger Rebecca said...

Thanks for the comment and the route through Texas. I really enjoyed the hill country, but they were serious beasts of hills. Pretty, but slow... The Davis Mountains were also great, but extremely remote. I hitched a ride for 20 miles of it.


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