Life Lessons Courtesy of Elizabeth Edwards

In many ways, Elizabeth Edwards' life played out like a very public soap opera: the loss of a child, infidelity, terminal illness, baby-mama drama. She handled the drama with dignity. We should all take note.

Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

When you have lived long enough, you realize your mama’s wisdom: that you truly have only one life to live. The question then is, how will you live your life? I ask myself some version of this question out loud at the start of every year. I find myself asking it early this go-round, urged forward by the death of the dynamic Elizabeth Edwards.

Have you ever thought about how you would live your life if you learned that you had only six years left? What would you do if you lost a child? What would you do if you were betrayed by someone who had pledged to honor your heart? Have you ever imagined how you would react if you were publicly humiliated — on an international stage?

These were realities for the wife of the former senator, former vice presidential candidate and former presidential candidate John Edwards. She will always be known as the “wife of,” but she was also a best-selling author and successful lawyer.

Virtually anybody would have forgiven this mother of four for losing it in one way or another. Put yourself in her shoes for a moment. Would you have turned a blind eye or even cheered if she had hauled off and hit Rielle Hunter — or her husband, for that matter — after the two had an affair right under her nose while she was engineering her husband’s presidential bid? What would you have done if your husband’s secret lover had a baby with him (and lied about it) exactly while you were in the throes of battling life-threatening cancer?

What Elizabeth Edwards did was noble. What she did was to stand up, brush off her shoulders, decide that she would straightforwardly play the hand of life she was dealt, and do it with integrity and grace according to her own rules.

This woman — often called average because she wasn’t slim (like so many political wives), she wasn’t eye candy (like Sarah Palin), she wasn’t anything other than what most other American women are (just regular) — walked with a depth of integrity and sense of self that few today can call their own.