Elizabeth Edwards looks on as Mary Tsao speaks.
A couple of days ago I was contacted by Beth of the Silicon Valley Moms Blog to ask if I'd like to join them in meeting Elizabeth Edwards (wife of the man who should be our Vice President right now). I said "yes!" even before I had babysitting lined up, that's how much I wanted to go.
I knew that she had a new book out—I'd seen her trying to get a word in edgewise with Charlie Rose (will he just shut up already?)—and I was curious to see what she had to say. I so hoped that it wasn't another one of those, "I'll give you my book if you promise to blog about it" deals.
In preparation for today's meeting, I bought her book Saving Graces. I figured that I would flip through it and see if any questions jumped out at me. To my surprise, once I cracked it, I could not put it down, and was up until 3AM last night finishing it. Elizabeth Edwards is a very compelling writer. Her book is actually very "bloggish" (or "journalish") in that you feel that she is talking directly to you. She is raw and honest and doesn't hold anything back. The book is inspiring and so touching.
I don't normally pick up books like this and might have passed it up because we already know so much about the Edwards family, their down-to-earth roots, the tragic loss of their son in a car accident, that she had two kids in her late forties, her breast cancer struggle. But I am so glad that the universe aligned and the book found its way into my hands. It sounds corny, but I feel I am a better person today for having read it.
She describes in detail the period when she lost her son Wade and had to learn to "parent his memory." I sobbed through those chapters and had to stop numerous times to wipe away the tears and compose myself before continuing on. Those chapters (and anytime she talks about Wade, really) are extraordinarily painful to read, I can't imagine bearing such a loss.
She includes her posts to various grief boards and sites that helped her cope—all her emotions are laid bare; they are her heart cracked open and spilling over with pain and grief on the page. She shares that her daughter Cate slept next to their bed for two years (on two chairs and an ottoman pushed together) following Wade's death. She shares intimate details about her life with John, about passion in her marriage being lost during that time (she makes the wry comment that her daughter's co-sleeping didn't help), and how when that happens, there has to be other things like friendship and understanding and love and respect to sustain it.
Edwards also talks about her cancer struggle, from discovering a lump in her breast just before election day, to how in the aftermath of the losing the election, she and John had no time to decompress because she went straight on to chemo.
But the most striking thing about the book is that she seems to remember every single person in her life that sustained her, supported her, helped, and inspired her along the way, through good times and bad. She remembers the names of servers, janitors, supermarket baggers, her first teachers, neighbors, friends and colleagues, and she seems to have named them all in her book. Saving Graces is part memoir and part one big, huge thank you letter. It is probably the kindest, more generous book I have ever read. In writing it, Elizabeth Edwards is teaching us all a thing or two about how to be gracious. About how to be a genuinely good person. We can all learn from the example she sets.
So what is it like to meet Elizabeth Edwards, quite possibly our next First Lady? The words: grounded, no-nonsense, and no bullshit come to mind. (I don't think she'd mind my saying that.) Also: intelligent, direct, sparkling, and honest. She shakes your hand and looks you in the eye and says your name when she meets you. She had read everyone's bio and remembered small details about different bloggers' lives. I was impressed.
"What do you want from us," one of the bloggers asked after we were settled and had introduced ourselves. After all, that was what we were all wondering. We all had her books, there was no PR person whispering in her ear. What could she want from a passel of mom bloggers (and one want-to-be-stay-at-home-dad blogger)?
Turns out, not what I had expected.
She wanted to meet some mom bloggers as a way to "keep the door open to people," she said. She viewed these exchanges as "a two-way-street." She feels blogs are the last really democratic institution, a sort of "town square." She admires "citizen journalists." She said, "I want you to always feel like you have an open door..." to discuss whatever we wanted to discuss. She gave us what she said was her direct email address as if to make the point that she really was serious about leaving that door open.
She asked questions and answered questions and it was weird. It wasn't like what you would think meeting with someone so famous would be like. I've met some big shots and am never much impressed with them in person. But Elizabeth Edwards felt like one of us. I mean, just look back at the photo. Is there any doubt that she interested and engaged in what Mary is saying? Look at her easy smile exuding warmth. She is really listening. At that moment, she felt like a mommy blogger and her blog was called Saving Graces and here it was in front of us in book form. She was never once dismissive or haughty. She let us bubble over with excitement and interrupt her and, well, it felt like a three martini playdate 'cept without the kids and without the martinis.
Inevitably the conversation turned to politics. John Edwards is considering a run for president in 2008. She says his motivations are "pure." He'd rather just sit on the porch of their new house and be with his family but you "can't keep saying this country can do better from the sidelines." Sometimes you gotta get in there and "do better."
"What do you think of Hillary," asked another blogger. She said she admired Hillary, that they had similar backgrounds. There was a flap earlier with week about Elizabeth Edwards apparently saying she had a more joyful life than Hilary because she chose to work less and focus on her family. That was cleared up right quick. It was a quote taken out of context. She explained and I believe her.
The blogger who asked about Hillary then related the story that when she told a friend she was going to be meeting Elizabeth Edwards and was wondering if she should ask a question about how she felt about Hilary for president, her friend said, 'I'd rather vote for Elizabeth Edwards.'"
Elizabeth Edwards smiled and shook her head. She has no intention of running for anything. But you know what? After today's meeting, I'd vote for Elizabeth Edwards, too. My problem with Hillary Clinton is that she never kicked her philandering-ass husband to the curb. How could an intelligent woman like that stick with such a womanizer? It makes me question her true intentions and what she values in life. You get the impression that if John Edwards ever tried something like that with Elizabeth...well, let's just say that you get the impression that he would never try something like that with Elizabeth.
We ended the session with her signing copies of all our books. Books we paid for with our own money. There was no talk of "will you blog this" even though, yeah, we all will.
But I don't mind, after all, as Elizabeth Edwards says, there is "power in community." She is part of my community now, and I support her.
On a personal note, it was nice to meet new bloggers and reconnect with bloggers that I had met at the BlogHer conference and haven't seen since. I also finally met Glennia Campbell who writes with me over at Kimchi Mamas. And, of course, it is always nice to see Mary Tsao and Charlene Prince Birkeland. The tag line for Elizabeth Edwards' book is "finding solace and strength from friends and strangers," and that is exactly how I feel about these women.
[photo credit: Stefania Pomponi Butler]