Elizabeth Edwards died today, after a long battle with cancer. The battle ended, but she didn’t lose. She was graceful and courageous in the face of certain death, and that is always a victory over despair. As she put it in a farewell message she posted on Facebook, “I have found that in the simple act of living with hope, and in the daily effort to have a positive impact in the world, the days I do have are made all the more meaningful and precious.” No one who says such things, in the final days of her life, can be defeated by Death.
The less said about her estranged husband, the better. In the long run, we must not forget how close he came to presidential power, or the appalling judgment of the people who gave him that opportunity. Tonight, I would only say that we can be done with any talk about how he “humiliated” Elizabeth. True honor cannot be stained by the touch of low men.
Elizabeth was a soldier in political causes, and had strong viewpoints quite at odds with mine. I wouldn’t ask anyone to forget that. I have every reason to believe she was sincere about her beliefs, and she didn’t want her arguments to die with her. I also wouldn’t let her off the hook for being one of the people who almost put her husband and John Kerry in the White House. You don’t have to agree with someone in life to honor them in death, or respect the courage they showed in an hour that will come for us all. I do volunteer work for a cancer charity. I’ve met people waging the same war Elizabeth did. Sometimes the day I meet them is the last time I see them. I’m pleased to share this cause with her, even if we might not share many others.
“It isn’t possible to put into words the love and gratitude I feel to everyone who has and continues to support and inspire me every day,” she said in her farewell message. As someone who makes his living with words, I can confirm it isn’t possible… but you can spend a lifetime trying, and it would be a life well spent.
It is a comfort to look ahead, on the long road that ends in twilight for all of us, and see a few bright souls lead the way with grace and dignity. Their courage nourishes the living. It is a solemn responsibility to witness such courage, and do the best we can to pass it along, to young people who will one day watch us walk into the fall of night.
Love is many things. One of them is bravery in the face of death – the expression of love for the human race, which began before we open our eyes for the first time, and continues after we close them for the last. Some people are taken from us suddenly, as my mother was, years ago. Others have time to prepare a proper farewell, a gift of hope to the living. The only thing we can give in return is remembrance. Tonight I offer that gift to Elizabeth Edwards, and the family she loved.