The media had a field day stripping John Edwards of his “two-Americas” robe, but I’d rather focus on the Greek tragedy Edwards now finds himself starring in. There are a number of insights we can derive from it… especially when we examine the plight of Edwards’s wife, Elizabeth.
I can relate to Mrs. Edwards’s situation, because it reminds me of the last years of my sister’s life. After about 40 years of marriage, through most of which she endured subtle verbal abuse, my sister discovered that her husband had been cheating on her for quite some time. After considerable emotional turmoil and an attempt at reconciliation, she finally filed for, and obtained, a divorce.
A couple of years later, my sister’s oldest son died in a horrific automobile accident. It was a devastating blow, one from which she never fully recovered.
Then, about eight years after her son’s death, her doctor handed over her own death sentence in the form of a diagnosis of terminal lung cancer. Sadly, she had been a three-to-four-pack-a-day smoker since she was a teenager. The news stunned our family… and, unfortunately, her end came slowly and painfully.
Because of the difference in our ages – and the fact that we lived 2,500 miles apart – my sister and I had never been particularly close. But when one of her children called to tell me the end was near, I dropped everything and flew to California to see her. If you’ve ever had a relative or good friend die of cancer, you know it’s a pretty grim experience.
I’m thankful I was able to see my sister before she died, because it gave me the opportunity to tell her, in person, that I loved her. Although she had been drifting in and out of consciousness, she opened her eyes, turned her head slowly toward me, and, as I held her hand in mine, said with a faint smile, “Really?” She seemed genuinely pleased by my words. I will always feel good about that.
I sat by her side for about two hours, though she no longer seemed to be aware that I was present. When the time came for me to leave for the airport, I kissed her on the forehead, said goodbye, and walked toward the bedroom door.
When I reached the door, I turned and looked back at her, realizing that I would never see her again. And I remember wondering to myself what the purpose of her life had been. She had barely made a ripple while she was here… then suffered triple painful blows during her remaining years. I could hear that old Peggy Lee song – “Is that all there is?” – in my head.
In her youth, my sister was very pretty, very bright (graduating second in her high school class), and extremely popular with both girls and guys. But before she could even make it to college, she married Prince Charming. She could never have imagined what was in store for her.
On the plane ride home, I thought about how sad the last years of my sister’s life had been: a bitter divorce… her brilliant, loving son dead in an instant in a cataclysmic clash of steel and glass… her own slow, painful death. The suffering she endured during those 10 years is still unfathomable to me.
Though I know very little about Elizabeth Edwards as a person, I thought about my sister when I first heard that her breast cancer had returned. She not only is the same age as my sister was when she passed away, she, too, lost a young son in an automobile accident.
Though I have always had a low regard for John Edwards (as I do for anyone who arrogantly anoints himself as the savior of “the poor”), I felt genuine empathy for both him and his wife as a result of the two terrible blows they had endured in such a short period of time. But who could have imagined that a third, and, in many ways, even worse, blow was yet to come?
When a husband tells his wife he’s been having an affair, it’s painful for both parties. But rational people recognize that, to one extent or another, we’re all “sinners”… we all make mistakes. Put another way, even good people sometimes do bad things.
But when you throw in the fact that a man’s wife has incurable cancer, it takes a person of incredible goodwill to be able to write off that man’s affair as just a “mistake.” Now, it appears that even after Edwards admitted his indiscretion, he was still carrying on the affair… while his wife was bearing the burden of coming to grips with her mortality.
I don’t even want to think about the possibility that the National Enquirer is right about Edwards’s plans to marry his mistress after his wife dies. That would be a dark side to this story that only a saint could forgive.
No human being should have to endure the succession of blows Elizabeth Edwards has taken… and, I fear, may have to suffer as additional facts are brought to light about her husband’s indiscretions (plural).
No matter what issues or sadness you are dealing with in your own life, unless you can match Elizabeth Edwards’s hand card for card, it would be a good idea to make an effort to be grateful for what you have – and what you don’t have.
With few exceptions, no matter how heavy our burdens may be, there are millions of people around the globe who are much worse off than we are. As Socrates put it: “If all our misfortunes were laid in one common heap whence everyone must take an equal portion, most people would be contented to take their own.”
One last thought: A good definition of a near-divine human being might be “someone who always takes into consideration how his words and actions might affect those he loves – then speaks and acts accordingly.” Something we mortals might do well to aspire to.[Ed. Note: Improving your life starts from the inside out. Of course, thinking good thoughts about yourself and others isn’t all you need to do. You need to take action in order to move yourself forward to success.
For a treasure chest of proven ideas, strategies, and techniques for increasing your income many times over, check out Robert Ringer’s best-selling dealmaking audio series. And be sure to sign up for his Voice of Sanity e-letter.]