Peace is such hard work. Harder than war. It takes way more effort to forgive than to kill. — Rae Carson
This is hard for me, guys.
There is a video circulating on Facebook right now and it is making me uncomfortable. When something makes me uncomfortable rather than angry or sad, I know it is something I need to examine. I hate examining things. It’s exhausting, and not even a little bit fun.
Monica Lewinsky spoke recently at the Forbes Under 30 Summit. I kept seeing the video pop up in my feed. I saw it was trending. A few people I know posted it. I really, REALLY did not want to watch it.
Infidelity is something I have strong feelings about. That is, perhaps, putting it a little mildly. Infidelity is something I have a visceral reaction to, for many reasons.
I decided to watch the video. Ms. Lewinsky is intelligent, well spoken, and clearly cares deeply about the cause with which she’s aligned herself. She spoke briefly about her affair with President Clinton, she had one line about other people being hurt, and then spoke extensively about the aftermath. The toll their relationship going public took on her, her family, her friends. She cautioned that your reputation can be ruined in an instant in this day and age of the Internet and social media.
I know that was the thrust of the speech. I know she wasn’t signing up for a mea culpa tour. I know she was only 22 when it happened, and I know he was the President. I know all of those things.
I think she paid a terrible price. I think she paid a steeper price than he did, which is decidedly unfair. She feels her reputation was lost in an instant. I’m not sure I agree. It calls to mind the story of Samson. My pastor gave a great sermon on Samson when I was in the middle of the awfulness. He said that Samson didn’t ruin his life in one step. With one decision. On his way to Gaza he walked thousands of steps, and could have turned around at any point. He could have changed his story any step along the way. We “found out” about the affair in an instant, but her reputation was compromised over thousands of steps. Thousands of decisions.
As far as I am concerned, there are two victims in this scenario. Two. Their names are Hillary and Chelsea. They are the only two who didn’t have a say in this. President Clinton and Ms. Lewinsky were playing Russian Roulette with their lives and the lives of others. So, yes. Ms. Lewinsky got hurt. It is the risk she took. And no, President Clinton did not suffer the long-term effects that she did. Is it fair? Nope. But we have other contexts for him. This is all we know about her.
Hillary will likely run for president in the next election, and if you don’t think questions, comments. speculation and snark about this decade and a half old event will follow her the entire time, you are giving our media FAR too much credit. She is still paying the price for a decision which was not hers. THAT is beyond unfair.
As I watched the video and listened to Ms. Lewinsky speak, I could feel my shoulders tense. I consider myself to be fairly empathetic. I’ve always loved the line from Steel Magnolias, “Nobody cries alone in my presence.” It’s pretty true for me. But when she started to get emotional, I felt myself getting annoyed. I could feel myself hardening my heart toward her. That is, until she said the word SHAME.
That’s when I went from angry to uncomfortable.
Shame is something that has dogged me for as long as I can remember. It is, perhaps, the most harmful feeling you can have. In fact, when I learned of my ex husband’s infidelity, it wasn’t anger I felt. It was shame. I know it doesn’t make sense. I mean, my brain knows that.
It was harder to be judgmental and angry at her once she began to speak about her shame. I know what living with that dark shadow feels like. I know how it contaminates every part of your life. I don’t wish it on anyone. Nothing good comes of shame, for anyone. Ever. It is singularly destructive.
It seems as though she is in a better place now. I hope that’s true. I would not want her mired in unending shame. It shouldn’t be a life sentence. She should not have to apologize forever, but I do hope that she apologized to Hillary. I hope she did it in a private way. Not to a camera. Not in a magazine. I hope she sent her a letter or an email, simply saying she was sorry. That what she did was wrong. Unequivocally. I hope the apology didn’t contain the word, “but.” Real apologies never do.
I hope she gets the chance to live a full and happy life, not one defined by this one chapter. I hope she gets the opportunity to give us other contexts for her. Reputations may be lost in an instant, but they are rebuilt slowly, bit by bit. I think this speech was a good first step.
I have friends on both sides of infidelity. I have friends who’ve been betrayed, and friends who’ve been unfaithful. In some ways I am glad about that. It is so much harder to judge close up. If I didn’t know anyone who’d made that mistake, I would likely not require myself to feel any compassion or to think about the “other” person as a fallible, flawed human being, rather than an enemy.
I love my friends. They are not that one mistake. We are none of us all one thing. Nobody. Not Ms. Lewinsky, and no, not even the other women in my story. I also had to ask myself why I’ve been able to forgive my ex husband and not these other women. I think it’s the same reason we’ve forgiven Bill and not Monica. As much as he hurt me, shattered me, really, I have other contexts for my ex husband. The other women are just… other women. One-dimensional, unwanted strangers who invaded my life.
Except they’re not. They are someone’s daughters, someone’s friends, someone’s sisters. They are the apple of someone’s eye. And, my faith tells me, they are beloved children of God. Just like me. Just like you. Just like Monica.
- On Packing Up And Letting Go: Knowing When To Say, ‘NOT YET’
- Forgive Infidelity: Are You Nuts?
- 7 Steps To Forgiveness: Burying The Past Once And For All
- Can You Forgive? Can You Be Forgiven?