I did not know Elizabeth Edwards. And yet . . .
I have not written a blog for over two months. I wanted to write something before the last election, but it was as if the cat got my tongue. I wanted to write that To Kill a Mockingbird was a fitting metaphor for the country right now; that Sarah Palin and her followers are like the Ewells. Sarah Palin, like Bob Ewell, claiming victimhood and using love of family as a weapon, revels in the power to destroy lives. Her followers seem like Mayella Ewell, who is at the mercy of her rapist and physical abuser—her father, Bob Ewell. Even greater than the rage she has for her father, is that she feels for the town people who turn a blind eye to her plight.
The only power the Ewells seem to have is derived from the conceit that being white entitles them to more than if they were black, regardless of character.
I was not able to articulate that in October. Then the election happened, and the cat seemed to disappear with my tongue.
People, I think, are feeling powerless over their lives right now. As the gap between the haves more and more and haves less and less grows greater, survival fears creep in, which provides fertile ground for tyrants—those whose pathological need for power has no boundaries or decency.
And then, there was Elizabeth Edwards. Pundits and commentators reported that she had lost her battle with cancer. When reminded that she did not look at her impending death as a battle lost, they lost their veneer of objectivity. They seemed to let in the story they were really telling: a life had ended, and though they did not yet understand why or what, she had taught them something about living.
I’ve been sorting through why I can claim the right to pause at her passing, how though I never met her, I feel affected by her life.
She was the same age as I, so perhaps that is a part of why it hits close to the bone. I admire that she took a route that was new to women when we were younger; going to law school. She embraced her entitlement to her aspirations. It took me another twenty before I even recognized I was entitled to them.
When her son was taken from her, she didn’t lose herself in work. Instead she lost herself in grief. I think that’s healthy. I think that’s why she found her way out of it. It also says to me that though she had stepped into a world that was defined by a cultural stereotype of being male, she did not become enslaved by it. She did not man up, she womaned up.
Losing the 2004 election had to be disappointing. On the same day, she learned she had breast cancer. I think the fear of being diagnosed with breast cancer lurks in the dark corner of women’s lives. Dire news about cancer returning coincided with revelations about her husband’s infidelity. The betrayal became public humiliation as it played itself out in 24-hour news cycles. What was most difficult, she said in an interview, was that all through their thirty years of marriage she had been able to turn to her husband during bad times. That’s what she had lost with his betrayal.
If anyone might feel powerless, and bitterness at being powerless, one could understand her feeling that way.
Whatever route it took her to get there, she chose grace over bitterness and powerlessness.
Women like Sarah Palin and Sharon Angle declared that their opponents needed to man up. They are enslaved to cultural stereotypes of being male, a stereotype that might provide the illusion of power over others, but ultimately carries no genuine power with it. They apparently never met Atticus Finch.
Elizabeth Edwards showed us courage and grace in the face of humiliation, disappointment, and death. We all have the power of courage and grace, regardless of what life throws our way.
She showed us how to number our days so we can apply our hearts unto wisdom.
We need leaders who know how to number their days.
We need them to woman up.