Thoughts on Resilience
The union between man and a woman started far before Judeo-Christian religion came to be; however, nowhere do we find more clear and lasting rules for this union and marriage than in the great books of our shared tradition. Adam and Eve were the first two humans according to Islam, Judaism and Christianity. They were created to take care of God's creation, the earth and furthermore to populate the earth. God moulded Adam from the dust of the earth, then formed Eve from one of Adam's ribs and placed them both in the garden of Eden. "Male and female he created them; and blessed them and called their
Elizabeth Edwards and John Edwards. She chose forgiveness over bitterness, and won
name..." ( Genesis 5:2). After the Fall is described in detail, the twenty ninth verse of Genesis explains why a man should love his wife: "Let everyone of you in particular so love his wife even as himself". Most interpret institutionalised marriage as (ideally) a promotion of love, nurturing and procreation. When two people decide to spend their lives together in holy matrimony, it is one of the most joyous occasions, not to be undertaken lightly. With marriage comes the responsibility to commitment. It is a symbol of the joining of two spirits, two hearts spiritually bound. Whether a couple unites with one another through the ritual of their religion, uttering traditional vows, quoting love poems, or writing their promises, a marriage is traditionally the ultimate union in our society between a man and a woman. The two of them often try to abide by the rules of marriage that religion and society bestow upon them. With this promise to love one another, a couple is also agreeing to be faithful to one another until death separates them. This is a huge commitment. Many married couples are able to honour their commitment.
Many more fall short on their promises. Some let the spectre of infidelity creep in and shadow their bond. Clearly, a happy man or a woman does not go outside of the marriage looking for love, affirmation and comfort from someone other than their own spouse. Infidelity comes with a hefty price tag: a damaging psychological and spiritual impact on the health of the marriage. Most couples are not able to deal with the guilt and shame of the truth being exposed. Often, the marriage falls apart. Children are affected. Do I condone such behaviour? Of course not. I am simply laying out general facts. Some do try to salvage their marriage through marriage counselling and by other means. With hard work towards a stage of forgiveness, a marriage may survive; albeit it is a different kind of a marriage. The guilty party may cite unforeseen events and circumstances, the strain of the marriage, or an inability to deal with the pressure of family life as reasons for cheating. They may cite lack of communication, a major illness, or the death of a child, all of which may have further shaken an already shaky marriage. This process of justification is common, abating the guilt of the unfaithful. Often, the betrayal may be so overwhelming and takes a toll on the innocent party. Sometimes, however, there are unusual methods of repairing a marriage that do not involve blame, excoriating therapies or reconciliation followed by mouldering resentment. Here is a recent, widely discussed example.
Terminally ill Elizabeth Edwards, the wife of former U.S. Presidential candidate John Edwards, tells all about her husband's well-documented infidelity in her newly released book Resilience. Prior to her marriage to Edwards, he asked her what wedding gift would she like from him. Her answer was simple: "Be faithful to me." He promised that he would do so. After thirty-eight years of marriage, John Edwards did the most unforgivable thing: he had an ongoing affair with a woman who was a member of his campaign staff. Through candid discussion in an interview with talk show hostess Oprah Winfrey, Elizabeth
Painting by Marc Chagall
Edwards talked about her life with Edwards, his infidelity and her battle with her illness. After the report of John Edward's infidelity came out, he was humiliated and shamed. Elizabeth Edwards felt his pain channelled through her own. She has decided not to be the victim of John's indiscretion. Time is literally of the essence here, for her. She is fighting terminal breast cancer. The time she has left here on earth will be spent with her family and her three children; she includes her husband in that close-knit family circle. Initially, she went through all the emotions of "why and how" but decided that there is another way to go about it. Like any other woman whose husband has cheated, she had self-doubt. However, she quickly determined his actions had nothing to do with her. She considered him as the man he used to be. She declared that one indiscretion didn’t null and void what they had together all their previous years; it did not negate what they meant to one another.
So, rather than wallowing in self-pity and bitterness, she recast the term 'infidelity.' She examined her marriage from her extreme perspective, from the generalist's point of view, and from the view of what the promise of marriage truly entails: fortitude of spirit, forgiveness, and belief in the overall sanctity of the mutual vows made in the original marriage ceremony. Elizabeth Edwards understood, however, that repairing their trust would be the major concern. In her book, she explains that the only way she knows how to cope with this breach of trust is by accepting that change has occurred, that life is not the same for them as it used to be. Resisting change would not let her move forward. She never lets herself forget that she is fighting cancer. She doesn't live her days filled with bitterness by hating her husband of so many years. She is a symbol of strength and unusually justifies her staying with Edwards after such a shocking revelation. In her mind, they built a life together, and a few episodes of indiscretion do not define her marriage. She poured her heart and soul in building a relationship with him and a happy home, and she is not ready to give it up because another woman stepped into their life for a few short days. The other woman was merely passing through. Many might wonder if another woman in Edwards shoes is simply kidding herself, "taking it on the cheek", letting herself be walked upon. Elizabeth Edwards, though, is acutely aware that her husband broke the concept of "happily ever after". However, as she has dealt with greater adversities before, she asserts that are more important things than the fantasy of lasting and perpetual happiness. She leaves a legacy of strength for other women in her situation to draw strength from. In her actions we see this strength, this steeliness, which is to me far more admirable than seeing a happy and content wife; I see a real woman in Elizabeth Edwards. Perhaps she demonstrates how a woman can love her husband "even as [her]self," and exemplifies how a partner should behave in a marriage. We remember how her cancer came back when her husband announced the candidacy for presidency. Most people would give up after such a grim prognosis, but not her. She stood by her husband while going through chemotherapy, all the while attending rallies and meetings. She stood by his side during the campaign. We watched her cheer him on. She amply demonstrated that she truly understood her marriage vows, and took them as sacred: In sickness or in health. Until death do us part.
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