Thursday, October 19, 2006

Lynn Heuss' guest blog on yesterday's meeting with Elizabeth Edwards

Due to a scheduling conflict, I was unable to attend yesterday's blogger meeting with Elizabeth Edwards. Lynn Heuss attended on my behalf and authored this post.

I was invited to be a representative at two different forums with Elizabeth Edwards yesterday. Being asked to stand in for someone means that the person doing the asking shows a certain level of trust in the capacity of the person representing them to do and say those things that would be in line with their own principles and beliefs.

In this case, it was a rather informal gathering, but after a number of conversations with people in attendance (in which I was constantly aware that I was there as a representative for Denise O’Brien and the author of this blog – Kyle), I began to think of the responsibility we place on the people that represent us in public office. My role was minimal, but theirs can impact thousands of people. I also became even more cognizant of the expectations (often unrealistic and borderline selfish) that we place on them.

I continue to find myself liking Mari Culver and appreciating the sacrifices she and Chet are making in their bid for governor. She cares a great deal about her family, especially their young children, and the impact the limited, but significant, absence of their parents is making in their lives. While they have a very good support system, it appears to me that she also understands the need for balance. She is willing to travel the state and put in long days, independently of Chet, in order to be his representative, but she also knows when to say no to the travel so that she can stay home. She cares about the people that work for them, enough that she was willing to share a family dinner with them on one of the rare occasions recently when she and Chet were able to sit down as a family.

Elizabeth Edwards too seems to understand (in light of her broad range of life experiences) and emulate what it takes to be an excellent representative for an even broader group of constituencies. She lost a child in a tragic accident, she has experienced what originally could have been a life-threatening illness, she moved to Washington when her husband became a Senator, she is a successful attorney and author, and she works with him in their effort to eradicate poverty in this country. Unfortunately, that last constituency group is growing so rapidly that her sphere of influence may be increasing more than she wants. (As a brief aside, when I asked her how she and the Senator found connection with those in poverty, since they are not poor, she said, “You don’t have to experience poverty to have a kinship with the people who do.” She can say that because, while they haven’t personally experienced it, they have worked for and taken the time to get to know people who have, and that truly has impacted and energized their efforts.)

Both of these women are strong, intelligent, interesting and passionate individuals who have committed themselves to a life that they hope will make things better for many of the people they come in contact with—they want justice. Equally as important, both of these women expressed the need to have a strong support network, for their own personal support and in order to allow them to do the job set before them.

I have not yet read Elizabeth Edwards’ book, but she said the basic theme is connection and community. In places both expected and unexpected, she often found comfort, support, laughter, understanding and a willingness to join her in places of sorrow, fear, happiness and peace. The point may be that she was willing to look for and accept the help when she needed it and offered the same when she could.

Lots of politicians and public figures talk about community – the need for it and the value of it in our lives. Elizabeth Edwards connected with hairdressers and medical personnel, along with family and close friends. She looked for any and every opportunity where there were common points of contact and that led to meaningful exchanges. Sometimes, I believe she just made the opportunity happen. Some of the connections lasted moments, some will last her whole lifetime. Most have made her a better and richer person. All have taught her lessons – some with lasting and significant value, and others have helped her get through a certain period of time.

Along with expecting our public representatives to advocate for justice in all levels of government, it is my great hope that we too take responsibility to work for justice. I hope we learn, or remember, to become better neighbors again and that the word “community” isn’t just a political, “touchy-feely” buzzword. It takes a little more time, but it may lead us to “be the change you want to see in the world.” (Mahatma Gandhi).


Chelsea said...

So what did Elizabeth say about poverty here in Des Moines?

Elizabeth Edwards said...

We talked about the relocation of the Des Moines shelter for the homeless and the neighborhood opposition to it. My understanding from the discussion was that the opposition had a number of misconceptions about the clients of the shelter. And my response was that many of us are threatened by people who are different from us and that personalizing the clients -- giving them faces and telling their stories -- might alleviate some of the anxiety. It is also possible to introduce the opposition to people who have been homeless once but today seem more like them, as a step toward de-mystifying homelessness and debunking the misconceptions. I wish we had had more time but since the real purpose of the visit was the book tour and I had several hundred people waiting, the discussion will have be to continued another day. Thanks for asking though, and thank you, too, for being concerned about poverty in your community.