Elizabeth Edwards On 'Facing Life's Adversities' Elizabeth Edwards, wife of former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, has survived campaigns, cancer, the death of a child and her husband's infidelity. In her new book, Resilience, Edwards discusses the adversities she has faced — and her efforts to move on.
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Elizabeth Edwards On 'Facing Life's Adversities'

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Elizabeth Edwards On 'Facing Life's Adversities'

Elizabeth Edwards On 'Facing Life's Adversities'

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Michele Norris. Elizabeth Edwards was known for speaking her mind while campaigning for her husband, John Edwards. She was, and is, often in the spotlight in her own right. In her first book, "Saving Graces," she wrote about her personal struggles, the death of her eldest son, her ongoing fight against breast cancer.

In her latest book, "Resilience," Edwards opens up about the heartbreak of her husband's infidelity with a former campaign videographer. Elizabeth Edwards had already agreed to write this book before she learned of the affair. She says she couldn't write a credible book and ignore that painful subject.

Ms. ELIZABETH EDWARDS (Author, "Resilience"): If you're going to write a book about resilience, if you have any qualifications, it's that you do go ahead and do some of the things that you wanted to do in your life, and not let those obstacles get in the way.

NORRIS: When you put this book together, when you wrote it, were you concerned that in the end, people would pick up the book and try to turn immediately to the page where you dealt with the infidelity?

Ms. EDWARDS: Yeah, that was a tremendous concern. As a matter of fact, I first thought, Michele, that what I would try to do is weave that into the whole. I found that impossible to do, so that if you actually read the whole thing, you're going to see little pieces of each of the struggles that I dealt with in different parts of the book. But it really seemed like it made more sense to deal with each one separately.

NORRIS: You say in the book: Without my knowing, a woman who spotted my husband one afternoon in the restaurant bar of the hotel in which he was staying, hung around outside the hotel for a couple of hours until he returned from a dinner and introduced herself by saying, you are so hot.

Ms. EDWARDS: You do that well, Michele.

NORRIS: Well, it was hard to read it. Frankly, it was hard to read it to you.

Ms. EDWARDS: Yeah.

NORRIS: How do you know that that's what went down? How do you know that that's what she said?

Ms. EDWARDS: You know, John started out by not telling me the whole story. He told me a very abbreviated story, which allowed me to - even though it was an enormous struggle, still allowed me to move through my life, allowed me to go through the campaign. And only, I don't know, a year and three months, a year and six months later did he tell me the full story, and that included, you know, how this actually happened.

NORRIS: Now, in the book, you say that you first learned of your husband's infidelity in December of 2006, at the end of the month, right after Christmas. It was right after he had returned from his tour announcing his presidency.

Ms. EDWARDS: Yeah, he'd done a tour announcing his presidency, and he was going to end up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where we live, and it was after that that he told me.

NORRIS: You asked him not to run, but he did. And I'm wondering if that was his decision. Were you overruled? Did the two of you sit down and decide together to pursue a shared dream? Help me understand the thinking behind the decision to push ahead.

Ms. EDWARDS: Well, he said - and I'll have to admit this was right - you know, if he pulled out right after he had gotten in, there would be a lot of questions. And that he also said that, you know, if this single incident looks like it's going to be a problem, we'll know that. That rationale seemed reasonable to me. But I still, you know, I was hesitant.

I was hesitant about how I was supposed to go out and talk about him. But honestly, the policies he talked about were, you know, in my view, so far superior to what other people were talking about. The public person, the person who wanted to serve, was really on the right track about our responsibilities to one another. He just failed in his responsibilities to me and frankly, you know, though it didn't turn out that way, it could have been to those people who had supported him as well. He didn't get the nomination - but not because of any of the things that he had done privately.

NORRIS: Now, I don't have to tell you this, but you know that some people feel misled by your husband but also by you. You knew about the affair, but you chose to actively campaign for your husband, and to present him as a man of character, and to present yourselves as the people involved in an ideal marriage. And people are angry because they feel like you've perpetrated a fraud. People are angry because they feel that his campaign had an impact on the election. Is the anger directed at you justified?

Ms. EDWARDS: It's really hard for me, Michele, I have to tell you. Now for one thing, what I knew was - you know, I knew of a single incident. I still had a personal struggle, but I didn't feel that it changed him substantially. And you know, no marriage is perfect, but we still had, you know, so many shared aspirations, not just for ourselves or our family but for the country, you know, that - though I was still trying to deal with it, it wasn't, when I was on the campaign trail, something I thought about very much.

NORRIS: Now an observation, and I hope you don't mind me asking this, you never mention the other woman by name.

Ms. EDWARDS: Right. Well, it's not important. I mean, in truth, this is my story, and you know, I think that most people who have been through this will tell you that that person was irrelevant to your life and irrelevant to, you know, to whatever future you're trying to put together.

So you know, I'll be honest. We've worked very hard on this marriage. We've been through a great number of things, and this is not taking John off the hook, by any means, because I am not taking him off the hook. Nobody needs to worry about that.

In fact, you know, he understands that and believes that he deserves to be in this purgatory, in a sense, until he's found some way to prove himself. But working so hard to put it together, I mean, putting together a home and putting together a family, and developing sort of a family purpose and goal, that's all really hard. It's really hard to be married and take somebody else into consideration all the time. And when anyone steps in to disrupt that, to basically take some of it for themselves without having put in the work, besides the time spent in front of a hotel, you know, that's - it's disturbing. And they're really sort of trying to buy into that at, you know, the bargain-basement price of a night in a hotel room. And you just - that's not something that needs to be rewarded.

NORRIS: Now, this story also involves a child.

Ms. EDWARDS: It does.

NORRIS: You don't deal with the issue of paternity in the book, and this is a very tough question to ask, but has that been resolved? Do your children have a sister?

Ms. EDWARDS: Not that I know of. You know, I think that this child - I'm sorry that this child will, you know, have to undergo whatever stigma is associated with the notoriety of these circumstances, but I don't have any information that this child is related to my children.

NORRIS: You could say that this is a book for the times. It could be easily be said Elizabeth Edwards has written the book on resilience, and in fact you did. That's the title of your book. What is your definition of resilience, in just a few words?

Ms. EDWARDS: I talk about my father's dealing with his life after he had a stroke. I think that resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it's less good than the one you had, the reality that you liked before. That's what my dad did. He still grabbed hold of what was left and lived it as fully as he could.

NORRIS: Elizabeth Edwards, it is always good to talk to you. Thank you so much for making time for us.

Ms. EDWARDS: And to you, Michele.

NORRIS: Elizabeth Edwards. Her newest book is called "Resilience: Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life's Adversities." For excerpts, go to npr.org.

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