Making Peace with Monica
Peace is such hard work. Harder than war. It takes way more effort to forgive than to kill.
This is hard for me, guys.
There is a video circulating on FB 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 do not understand it. I remember asking my ex-husband what story he’d told himself to justify his behavior, because he told himself SOMETHING. I was treated to a list of all of the reasons why his cheating was my fault. I wonder at the story the other women told themselves. At least one of them knew he was married. We’d met. She’d met my kids. I’m sure he spun a tale of woe about his dreadful wife- but anyone who’s ever seen a Lifetime Movie or an episode of Dateline knows that married men on the prowl seldom extoll the virtues of their wives when looking for a little action on the side. This just in, cheaters lie. It’s not rocket science.
I know. I sound angry. Infidelity makes me really angry.
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.
That’s where this post was originally going to end. Then I had a really bad night’s sleep. I dreamed vivid dreams about all of those nights when I would stay up wondering where my husband was. When my texts, emails and phonecalls would go unanswered. When I was put in the position of almost having to hope he was with someone else, because the alternative was that something terrible had happened.
I went back to the days where I would have epic tirades at the other women in my head, crafting what I would say to them should we ever meet face to face. The thing is, as much as I wanted to berate them and tell them off, I realize now I didn’t actually want to meet them in person. Because then they would be, well, people. I am much more adept at hating the IDEA of people than actual people.
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 thought about that A LOT in the wee hours of the morning. 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.
Knowing what I do now, I think about shame and worthiness in this way: ‘It’s the album, not the picture.’ If you imagine opening up a photo album, and many of the pages are full eight-by-ten photos of shaming events, you’ll close that album and walk away thinking, Shame defines that story. If, on the other hand, you open that album and see a few small photos of shame experiences, but each one is surrounded by pictures of worthiness, hope, struggle, resilience, courage, failure, success, and vulnerability, the shame experience are only a part of a larger story. They don’t define the album.