Orbital Matters

Saturn Smith
Editor’s Pick
DECEMBER 7, 2010 11:28PM

RIP Elizabeth Edwards: A real stunner

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Elizabeth Edwards Campaigning in 2008
Photo from John Edwards 2008 Campaign/CC License

The ways in which Elizabeth Edwards stunned me are mostly selfish. I was stunned by my own interest in her, stunned again and again by how fascinating I found the trashy, sordid mess that her husband made of their lives. I was stunned, last year, to find myself poring over things written by her and about her, detailing parts of a marriage that no one should know but its participants. I was fascinated. It felt dirty, but I was.

Why this fascination? I was never a John Edwards supporter. He was too slick, his politics too Southern-rooted, his smile too glib, his experience too light. His "Two Americas" speech was nice, but nice words need substance behind them, and he never seemed substantial. The one time I saw them both speak, she was less memorable than he was. They were cardboard-cut-out platitudes, touring the country (at that time) in support of an overly square candidate who couldn't beat George W. Bush a second time.

Yet something in the failures of 2008 humanized the Edwardses and, along the way, shocked me into paying attention. Elizabeth Edwards, once the poster woman for marital bliss and having-it-all, became the Dark Side of Celebrity warning almost overnight.

Nothing about John Edwards having an affair was stunning. What was was the reaction -- the public spectacle of it all. What was stunning was Mrs. Edwards's successes and failures at managing the story surrounding Mr. Edwards's implosion. It was shocking to see her still on TV when no one even wanted a remote interview with him. She should have been, at the pinnacle of her political influence, Todd Palin without the TV show. Yet there she was on Oprah. There she was on "The Today Show." There she was testifying before Congress and working with the President on Health Care.

Elizabeth Edwards stunned me because she mattered. Her success at capturing hearts, if not minds, showed me my own blind spots. I find the trashy details of politicians' lives entertaining -- like a peek behind the curtain at the circus. Others find the struggles and inspirational. A woman who can overcome such challenges -- the death of a child, two very late-in-life pregnancies, an unfaithful husband, the loss of a giant personal dream, and the certain, creeping knowledge that one's time will be so terribly short -- and carry on, and on, and on... well, yes. That's inspirational.

Elizabeth Edwards reminded me that even people with extraordinary means and extraordinary advantages can have struggles. They, too, can be stunned and ill-treated by life. They, too, suffer, and sometimes they suffer very publicly, for a very long time. That's a cruel fate for anyone, and it seems worse for someone who genuinely wanted, for so long, to do such good.

Tonight, I am stunned by her death. Rest in peace, Mrs. Edwards.

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"Elizabeth Edwards reminded me that even people with extraordinary means and extraordinary advantages can have struggles."

They truly were just ordinary people who found themselves in somewhat extraordinary circumstances. It is a sad moment in many ways.
Terrific tribute Saturn. You've summed up everything perfectly.
A refreshingly different and honest take on this sad news, Saturn. I wonder how much scrambling went on when that death vigil turned into one of the shortest in (recent) media history.
It did seem very short, cartouche. I think that's why I'm stunned, and yet find myself stunned.
i liked the edwards as people, even if not so much their politics.
they were very new at it, but there seemed such potential.
and who knows, maybe people in the end will see something yet for him to do, if not in elective office, like a certain republican and a certain democrat that comes to mind.
Excellent tribute for a very nice lady. She was exceptional !
Good to see you Saturn. I appreciate your words for Elizabeth Edwards - for recognizing the meaning in her life.
Well done, S. Long time no see.
yeah on the long time no see thing.
I rarely agree with you competely, but sure glad you're back, because on OS, you are an instistution.
If I missed you, I am sure lots of people whose views are more like yours than mine did too.
Nicely said. I think you touched on something. The public persona was generally generic and uninspiring. It was only when the facade came down that the true character of the individual shone through, and impressed many people with the way she faced the vicissitudes of life. In that way I'm reminded of Al Gore, who only became human and relatable during the dark period of his post-defeat introspection.
Elizabeth Edwards had so much more to offer than most people ever realized. The anecdotes about her intellect, humor & compassion are beginning to surface. Now those of us who didn't know her at all, can join those who knew her well, in mourning her loss.
She was the definition of someone not only rising above adversity, but actually somehow drawing strength from it. Your article was a lovely tribute. Great work as always.
I was so sad when I heard of her death. There was something about her that inspired me too.
I appreciate your observations about human frailty and complexity.
Someone on TV yesterday suggested that she should have been the candidate.
I liked John Edwards' populism, but sorry for the flaws, although I am disinterested in sexual affairs. I would not want my husband's betrayal to be a national spectacle. Although she too got some bad press, she seemed to rise above it. So much sadness in her life, especially the death of a child. Although I don't believe in the beyond, I sure hope she has found some peace too.
Well said. I was often stunned by her grit and determination to continue being active and visible. She stayed true to herself, he did not. She also did not let his actions define her.
This is perfection - including your admission (which many of us intellectuals like to pretend is not the case) that we are fascinated by the personal crashes of our politicians. Deserved EP.
Excellent. Thank you~r
I was unable to write about her, but you did it SO well. I too was affected by her death. I knew little about her beyond what the media reported. Yet I wanted to also say, she mattered. I guess she resonated with me because she was a Baby Boomer person in my age group who worked really hard (law degree, husband, children, etc.) and faced great hardships with grace. People will get all over her case because she was rich, but that is not the point. The person I feel the worst for in all this is Kate, her daughter who is late 20s, who lost her brother when she was a young teen, saw her dad being a jerk, and now lost her mom. RRR
So many needs were at play in this drama: our need to keep watching, her need to explain it all over and over again, her husband's need to lie, preceded by his need to feel important in the eyes of (and arms of) a younger groupie, and most of all, everyone's need to believe Cancer could be pushed back--all these needs proved only that we are predictable and Death is too, in its own way-- responding to no one: not bad PR, not apologies or regrets, not angry spouses or neglected children, not even prayers and tears. Death just does its own thing.
Looks like Susan Saradon in the background?
Beautiful tribute to an inspirational human.
Great tribute, really good!