Some people — as demonstrated by responses to blogs and other forums — believe the Edwardses are stealing time from each other and their children, while others see a couple that has weathered the tribulations and assaults life brings to most families, and could set a national example of coping. Mr. Edwards characterized both points of view as “fair” ones.

“I want the country to understand that people are completely entitled to their opinions on this,” Mr. Edwards said in a 30-minute interview largely dominated by Mrs. Edwards. During the interview, the candidate carefully kept looking at his wife, at times tucking his hand gently under her arm, other times finishing her sentences.

The couple framed their decision and their coping mechanisms — both now and potentially for the future — through the loss of their son, Wade, who was killed in a car accident in 1996.

In terms of being mindful of their young children, Emma Claire, 8, and Jack, 6, Mr. Edwards said, “We both recognize that there is a tension in our desire to be the best possible parents we can be for our kids — and remember this is in the context of parents who lost a child — and our desire to serve our country.”

Mostly it’s a flattering story, so I don’t want to pick, but there’s something running underneath it that I think is very interesting and makes me … not angry, but just kind of a very strong NO.

And that’s the assumption that it’s either work or family, that there’s two boxes, and you either pick one or the other. I see this a lot in discussions online and with friends, this idea about your life being divided, this part and that part and it’s your job to parcel out time to each thing like a mother bird dividing up food into hungry squawking mouths.

Work has no meaning to your family, family has no meaning to your work, the work is John Edwards’s and Elizabeth is either standing around supporting him or doing her own thing, that it’s not her run as much as his, that they should somehow … what, sit in their house? Go to Disney World? Play more Scrabble? I honestly don’t understand what we’re defining as more meaningful here. I don’t understand what people seem to want them to do.

(Under all that, of course, is a very big fuck off, don’t tell anyone else how to be when they’re ill or grieving or living through something, just be grateful for what you can have of them and don’t try to make it about your reaction and your ideas of appropriateness. Freepers.)

If you’ve only got so much time to spend, and we’ve all only got so much time to spend so don’t kid yourself, why shouldn’t you want to spend it doing something that you think will contribute to the greater good? Why ISN’T that a valid use? And why can’t that be time with loved ones as well, why can’t that have meaning for your family, that after you’re gone, you devoted your life to doing decent things for decent reasons and you worked hard to make the world a better place? I don’t know if I believe John Edwards should be president but I do not believe he’s running out of anything other than a desire to improve his country, and I admire that greatly, especially now. And of course you’ll want more time — doesn’t everybody want more time for everything?

We always frame these things as a stark 180-degree choice. It’s one life. It’s your life, and it’s all one thing. And the only people to whom how you live it is valid are you and those whose opinions you choose to care about.


26 thoughts on “One

  1. “(Under all that, of course, is a very big fuck off, don’t tell anyone else how to be when they’re ill or grieving or living through something, just be grateful for what you can have of them and don’t try to make it about your reaction and your ideas of appropriateness. Freepers.)”
    Yes, this is the real point. No one has the right to tell the Edwardses how to deal with this. I heard some right winger this morning saying that John should quit the race and dedicate his time to his wife. I wanted to throw something at the TV. How dare they tell them how to deal with something so personal!

  2. The SF Chronicle had a very good column the other day about this. The writer actually went out and talked to people who were living — emphasis on *living* — with Stage IV cancer. Every last one of them was on the Edward’s side. You go on with your job and your life and your family. If you’re not going to criticize him for running a presidential campaign with a healthy wife, you’ve no business criticizing him for running one just because his wife has a disease.
    And Oh, BTW, we get really, really, really, sick and tired of people who have no frickin’ idea what it’s like to live with cancer, telling us how we should live with our cancer.

  3. I’m with you most of the way, but you’re dead wrong about one thing, Athenae. It’s not just Freepers. It’s probably true that most of the opining progressive bloggers are framing it in a similar way, and it’s possibly true that your meatspace friends “get” it. It’s also, of course, being politicized and used against Edwards by various thugs on the right but that’s as much opportunistic poo-slinging as it is anything else.
    All that said, I don’t believe this particular short-sightedness lines up along left or right lines.
    Jane Hamsher pretty much nails it:
    But in your heart you know that much of this need to “control” stems from issues they haven’t faced within themselves that have absolutely nothing to do with you.
    Like you very aptly noted, we’ve all got a limited time to spend. A sliver of ice underfoot, thinner than a sheet of paper, could end a human’s life one winter day; a drunk’s running a red light; a spider bite; hidden heart murmur; dead batteries in the carbon monoxide detector; piece of chicken going down the wrong way- there’s a million and one things that could take us out any given day-that’s how fucking fragile we are and how tenuous life is. Which is why our collective minds have built collective and individual fortresses, completely illusory each one, around that inner, innate truth.
    And then someone in your sphere goes and gets cancer. Or gets or becomes fill in the blank, the point is they move dangerously closer to the abyss.
    And, like Jane says, the reaction is about you, your fortress, your denial, your unknown. It’s not about the other guy, the one who’s sick, the one who’s staring at that abyss head-on.
    And that shit in the pants fear, that need for control, doesn’t belong to just one group or political faction. It’s pretty much universal, I think.

  4. When I broke my neck and first experienced quadriplegia nearly 39 years ago, near death and loss set upon me.
    Confronting death and loss isn’t something most of us invite into our life it’s just part of our life. The amount of money and time you’ve spent buying and reading self-help books doesn’t guide or gauge how you deal with loss or the potential of imminent death. You just have to figure it out for yourself based on what’s going on inside of you.
    John Edwards’s dream of becoming President of the United States is something he and Elizabeth have made part of their collective dream. I know the media wants us to view politics as crass and horrible so we keep the masses from participating in it allowing only the elite to rule our country.
    But, there are some who refuse to take the bait of crassness and hold dear to the ideals of democracy. John and Elizabeth believe in their collective ability to contribute to a higher and greater good for all humanity. Running for President of the United States of America is the course they chose together to influence a better nation and world.
    How do I know all of this? Because when I hear them talking I close my eyes and I feel it in their words and energy. I see it in their eyes. When people love each other their dreams become part of a shared collective. Why can’t we let ourselves accept the fact that these two people really love each other and want nothing but the best for each other.
    Instead of focusing on cancer and everything that goes along with it, John and Elizabeth are focusing on their collective dream because that’s how they decided they want to dedicate their lives.
    I admire and respect John and Elizabeth Edwards for their courage, strength, and willingness to live their life fully until they draw their very last breath. I thank them for sharing their love and potential loss with me. For not giving up and for going on they have earned my eternal gratitude.

  5. I’ve been thinking about writing and comparing the various views on this topic from the talk radio hosts and callers. The one I found more interesting was Rush Limbaugh’s he playing it as Edwards turned to Politics instead of God.
    This is a standard Limbaugh tactic. He gives people something to be FOR as well as something to be against. And It is part of the key to his success with people.

  6. I think Edwards is one of the last sophisticated candidates. After 7 years of Bush rodeo, Bush oil drilling and Bush Iraq war
    and the latest smell, nukkular threat yahoo, one has the right to be completly fed up. After Bushs latest horror show in legal matters performed by his buddy gonzo were still unable to think properly.
    help yourself on gonzogate: read 500 documents
    nytimes: growing body of evidence
    His sister dealt crack while gonzo was studying. OK, you may call the Edwardses boring cause Johns studies werent obviously refinanced by his sister. though i dont still get the entire picture ah… perrspective.

  7. I have to wonder how the people criticizing the Edwards’ choice to continue the campaign at the supposed expense of their family feel about the members of the military who have given a year or two or three — or even their lives — in the pursuit of George Bush’s stupid plan in Iraq? Are they crappy parents, too?

  8. I’ve posted a lot about this on other people’s blogs already, and blasted off a letter about it to the globe where venocchi took the idiot side as usual. I agree 100 percent with Jane and with Athenae and, as it turns out, with the Edwards’ on this decision. But I wanted to pose a slightly different question–what would we think if the Edwards’ (or any parent with cancer) decided to take the kids out of school and just sit at home for two or three years watching mom die. We’d think that was sick. We’d think “hey, those kids are entitled to a life, aren’t they? What kind of preparation for the future are they offering them? What kind of love are they showing them?” Well, how different is it for a married couple? If I were Elizabeth Edwards’ I’d want my husband to keep fighting for the cause and the work he is committed to, and if I were Edwards’ I’d want to do that too, with the caveat that I’d want to be free to spend the time I need with my wife. But he does have that freedom–wealth, telephones, help, all mean that he can spend as much time with her as they need *and* do this. As Athenae says its not either/or.
    I guess the other thing I find hysterically odd, and I posted this over at Jay Carney’s botched blog comment, is jezus christ has the press not figured out that we are all, always, dealing with the “shroud of mortality?” I mean has it escaped their attention that no one on this planet knows whether they will live through the night, let alone the next day? As clint eastwood observed in one of his hackier movies “tomorrow is promised to no man.” As Tolstoy observed, somewhat more grandiously “what shall we do and how shall we live” is the question we all have to answer. Its a question, dammit, and we have to answer it. The answer isn’t a given. But whatever the answer is it involves going ahead and doing stuff under the permanent threat of death.
    That is also something I thought when I read Rush Limbaugh’s bizarre god invocation in this matter. You know, Rush said that it was disgraceful that they were continuing the fight for the presidency because they should be putting themselves into “gods hands.” I’m an atheist, but as I understand christian and jewish theology (rather well, actually) everyone is already in god’s hands. You are as much in his hands on a campaign as at home, as much part of god’s plan working as sleeping.
    So rest easy Rush and the rest of judgemental america. The edwards’ are doing just what they should be.

  9. Beautifully said, Athenae. (Your blog voice is a thing of beauty, by the way, and gets more beautiful and more powerful every day.)

  10. One of the most highly publicized non-political cases of breast cancer in the country right now is that afflicting NC State Women’s Basketball Head Coach Kay Yow. Yow, in Stage IV and undergoing chemo, has been on the sidelines for her team despite the complications and extreme fatigue inherent in her condition.
    Yow’s perseverance inspired her players and their fans throughout a season that ended yesterday at the hands of UCONN.
    Nobody was saying Yow turned to basketball instead of God.
    Repeated efforts to get her to admit that the games wore her down were rebuffed by Yow, who said the games represented 2-hour increments of her life in which her life revolved around her team, her players, the sport she loved and the job she still does for love of the game.
    Of course, Limbaugh would find some filthy thing to say about her, too, if she ever crossed his lizard-powered radar.
    I am so tired of the druggie gasbag pronouncing his moralistic pontifications and being followed by his legions of dittoheads into clueless and careless positions that damage not just the people he chooses to target — and over the years he has learnt to be careful who he targets, because some of his targets have fought back so successfully his myrmidons have threatened to rebel against him — but the nation. Our discourse, our communal interactions, and our country are the poorer every time he opens his mouth.
    Fortunately his popularity seems to be declining. Once he was on all 3 of our local broadcast non-pbs channels (one carried him in prime time!) Now, he’s not contaminating the tv in my area at all despite having two additional non-pbs, non-Spanish channels on the air. He still filthies up the radio, though. And of course ABC carries his protege/progeny Glenn Beck, so there’s no shortage of verbal barbarity in the atmosphere.
    Damn it.

  11. As long as John Edwards is the candidate for president, I’m for him, with him and supporting him. The rest is blather.

  12. Other Sarah-
    I’m glad you brought up Yow. One of my dear online buds is from NC and forwarded me the NYT article about Yow last week. It appears that for many in NC, there are lots of candles, altars and prayers going up for both EE and Yow.

  13. How many of us have stopped to wonder what we would do if given a cancer diagnosis? Would we “live every day as if it were the last”? Would we sink into a deep depression and stay in bed? Would we close the doors and enjoy our families 24 hours a day? Or would we just continue living our lives, knowing those lives are what they are largely because we want to live them that way? Having had the experience I found that the last was the only natural thing to do, and that is what the Edwards’ are doing.
    As others have pointed out above, much better than I can, we are all dying. All that is uncertain is when and how. If we could learn the when and how, nothing would have changed except our knowledge. But, none of us can learn that. So, we continue to live the lives we have largely chosen to live.

  14. The Edwardses choice is theirs and theirs alone.
    However, this:
    And that’s the assumption that it’s either work or family, that there’s two boxes, and you either pick one or the other. I see this a lot in discussions online and with friends, this idea about your life being divided, this part and that part and it’s your job to parcel out time to each thing like a mother bird dividing up food into hungry squawking mouths.
    well, that’s true for a lot of us. It’s true for my family. Like millions of people, I go to work, and I stay there, and then I come home. And if I stay an hour later at work, that’s an hour less I have that night with my partner and kids – that’s the reality I live in to pay my bills, etc. My partner also works, and when she stays late, she sees the kids less. And we love our time as a family, but we also work to provide for them.
    So I don’t see what’s so crazy about thinking of our time as one or the other. Sure, we’d love to integrate our lives into an ideal where work didn’t necessarily mean taking time away from the family, and everything had some beautiful synergy, but that’s not always economically feasible. So I’m somewhat offended by your statement.
    Again, this doesn’t have much to do with Edwards. It has a lot to do with the working class in the US, though.

  15. “How many of us have stopped to wonder what we would do if given a cancer diagnosis? Would we “live every day as if it were the last”? Would we sink into a deep depression and stay in bed?”–hoppycalif
    My greatest fear would be I’d take to bed being depressed while my greatest hope would be I’d find whatever it takes to LIVE each day. And I think if people are honest they would admit to same fear and hope. Which is why I think this second guessing of the Edwardses is such bullshit.

  16. Not that this is anyone’s decision but their own as to how they live their life, but my guess is that with Edwards’ money, neither will have to work so they should be able to spend lots of time (more than most of the rest of us working stiffs) with each other and with their kids whether his campaigning or not.
    Second we all know if this were one of the Republicans candidates Rush would be extolling said candidates virtue, fighting for a cause greater than themselves, the bravery, wife standing by husband etc. etc. etc. and probably saying a democrat would be quitting just like they want to do in Iraq.

  17. If I were suddenly given a specific deadline for my life, I’d blow off everything and tackle as many of those “dream goals” my resources would let me: travel to the places I always wanted to go, do those weird things I’ve always wanted to do, get as many of the unfinished works of fiction on my computer more finished and out into the world, that kind of thing. I would dedicate all the time I had to the things that that were most important to me. My family would support me, and I don’t know a single person who would fault me for it.
    How is this different? How is running for president “worse” than me dedicating all my remaining lifespan to finishing one more novel or blowing a lot of my money taking my family to Egypt because we’ve always wanted to see the pyramids? Isn’t this better, really? So the Edwards’ get their “living life to the fullest” rush from politics instead of bungee jumping or hangliding, so what? More power to them. Isn’t that better for society than my self-indulgent base jump?
    And please, don’t tell me this is “John’s dream, not Elizabeth’s”. How much of their lives have the Edwards’ devoted to public service? How much–on top of John’s Senate career–did they sacrifice for the 2004 presidential bid? How much have they sacrificed already for the 2008 campaign? If this weren’t Elizabeth’s dream, too, she wouldn’t still be with him after all that. From what I’ve seen of the two of them, he’s not bullying her or forcing him into this decision (and the right wing knows it, too: with all their “girly man” and “John’s effeminate” comments, they can’t suddenly turn and say he’s a macho bastard who bullies his wife).
    Honestly, if John Edwards hadn’t declared his candidacy before this, this situation might have tipped his decision: if Elizabeth says all she wants to do with her remaining time is help John become president so the two of them can actually do some of the things they got into politics to do, who the hell are we to say anything other than “Rock on, sister” and “Thanks for thinking of us”?

  18. I have a part-time job–actually, two–that I love. Between them, I spend about 12 hours a week away from Mr. BuggyQ. We both have hobbies we love that keep us away from each other another 6-12 hours a week.
    If our marriage were about just the time we spend together, we couldn’t do these other things. It’s not–it’s about who we are together. Both of us wouldn’t be happy not doing those other things. So we choose to be happy and spend the time together that we can.
    Everybody always brings up the old saw about how you never hear a person saying they wish they’d spent more time at the office. Right now, that’s true of my full-time job–I do that just to pay the bills. But my part-time jobs? Both of them, I wish I could spend more time doing them. When a person finds such a job–a true calling–shouldn’t they be allowed to pursue that? If I had kids, I’d want them to know that there are such jobs, that there are “callings,” and they should try to find theirs.
    My bet is, it’s the same with the Edwardses. If sitting at home worrying about Elizabeth’s health would make them less happy than campaigning, who are we to begrudge them that? Let alone the good they can accomplish by campaigning. And how good would it be for the kids to see them unhappy? Would that time with them be better? I doubt it.

  19. Elizabeth Edwards was very clear about what she wants her legacy to be, and it doesn’t involve going home and waiting to die. I admire her (and him) more than ever.
    And Athenae, I can tell right from the start when I am reading something you have written. Your passion always comes through in your brilliant choice of words.

  20. Ursula LeGuin, when asked about juggling writing and family life, said that while one person can’t two the work of two, two people who are honest about the division of labor can do the work of three. I think that’s what we’re seeing with the Edwards.
    It involves two crucial ingrendients, as far as I can tell: an occupation that one or both partners are passionate about, so that it becomes a sustaining force rather than a draining obligation, and partners who are committed to each other and a shared vision.
    We should all be so lucky to have one of those things. The Edwards appear to have both.

  21. Sorry to blather on, but I’d had a thought niggling in my brain about this all day–that there was something this all reminded me of. (And praise from Athenae makes me brave…)
    It’s Dorothy L. Sayers’ Gaudy Night. The basic premise, for those unfamiliar with her work, is that Harriet Vane, a mystery writer, was accused of murder, and exonerated through the efforts of Peter Wimsey (see Strong Poison and Have His Carcase for the first two novels featuring Vane). In Gaudy Night, she returns to Oxford and there encounters a group of female instructors. One of them grills her on the fact that she continues to write mysteries despite her own unpleasant experience as the subject of one. Harriet responds (and I paraphrase–I don’t have it in front of me), “I suppose you think that anyone with proper feeling would give up writing and scrub floors for a living. But the fact is, I write rather well, and I should scrub floors badly.”
    Elizabeth Edwards strikes me as a Dorothy L. Sayers type. Sayers understood the danger of judging others by our own standards.

  22. This post and all of the beautiful comments reflect the very best “Internets.”
    The post and comments also represent why I love “First Draft.”

  23. The point might just be don’t wait until you’re dying to live like it.
    Ordinarily, I”m not a Tim McGraw fan. However, there are his lyrics:
    He said I was in my early forties with a lot of life before me
    when a moment came that stopped me on a dime
    and I spent most of the next days looking at the x-rays
    Talking bout the options and talking bout sweet time
    I asked him when it sank in
    that this might really be the real end
    how’s it hit you when you get that kinda news
    man what’d you do
    and he said I went sky diving I went Rocky Mountain climbing
    I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu
    and I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter, gave forgiveness I’d been denying
    and he said someday I hope you get the chance
    to live like you were dying.
    He said I was finally the husband that most the time I wasn’t
    and I became a friend a friend would like to have
    and all the sudden going fishin’ wasn’t such an imposition
    and I went three times that year I lost my dad
    well I finally read the good book and I took a good long hard look
    at what I’d do if I could do it all again
    and then
    I went sky diving
    I went Rocky Mountain climbing
    I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu
    and I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter
    and I gave forgiveness I’d been denying
    and he said someday I hope you get the chance
    to live like you were dying.
    Like tomorrow was a gift and you got eternity to think about
    what’d you do with it what did you do with it
    what did I do with it
    what would I do with it?
    Sky diving
    I went Rocky Mountain climbing
    I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu
    and then I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter
    and I watched an eagle as it was flying
    and he said someday I hope you get the chance
    to live like you were dying.
    To live like you were dying
    To live like you were dying
    To live like you were dying
    To live like you were dying

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