In early 2007 I journeyed to Chapel Hill, North Carolina to to meet with Elizabeth and John Edwards. A friend of the Edwards’ family had reached out to me and asked if I would be willing to spend a few hours giving any advice I might have about running for president. -- I agreed to the meeting but made it clear I had no intention of working for them, or anyone else for president in the 2008 campaign.
At the end of the Dean campaign in 2004 I had developed a very painful and pretty much incurable neuropathy (my nerves liked to send signals of sharp pain just about all day long) that had convinced me that I physically could not handle the crushing marathon of another presidential campaign.
It is a condition that you learn to live with, your friends and family don’t see it and you learn to not wince and over time even to mask any outward signs that your nerve endings are on fire.
Two hours into my meeting with the Edwards, Elizabeth Edwards was the first person ever, and the only person since, to see through the mask and ask “are you in pain? Do you need to stop and take some medicine?”
I told her I had a condition called neuropathy. And Elizabeth looked at me and said “oh, I have that, too” then she talked about how she wasn’t going to let neuropathy or anything else get in the way of living a life of meaning and of making a difference. I thought that was really nice (I really did think that was nice) but I wished her and John well and an hour or so later I ended the meeting telling them there was no way I was going to be making a difference in 2008. I went home and felt sorry for myself.
Three weeks later I was glued to my television set as the Edwards were about to hold a press conference amid rumors that Elizabeth had had a recurrence of cancer and that they would abandon the 2008 campaign.
Something about the rumors didn’t ring true to me. That didn’t sound like the Elizabeth Edwards I had met weeks earlier in Chapel Hill. So I wasn’t surprised when she announced that the cancer had returned – but she was going to keep up the fight to make a difference and that the Edwards campaign would carry on.
What I was surprised by was my reaction, I picked up the phone and called Elizabeth and said that if she could keep at it with everything she faced, I could stop feeling sorry for myself and get out there a make a difference too.
And so started a great adventure with a remarkable woman. On the campaign bus she pulled out her phonebook-like list of songs and the jaded consultants and press on the bus belted out song after song. We all acted like we hated it but we all loved it. When the children were on the bus she took out the childrens’ books and each staffer read a page and handed the book on to the next. And if someone else’s child was on the bus that was another great excuse to sing or read.
I watched parents who had lost a child, as she and John had lost their son Wade, be uplifted after talking to her – because they knew they were not alone – that someone else had suffered that deep wound and somehow was beaming with energy and purpose and maybe they could too.
Cancer survivors and the newly diagnosed who were inspired by her grit, determination and grace.
Working people who were struggling – knew Elizabeth Edwards had different struggles but that she instinctively understood theirs and they marveled at her resilience and her tenacity in taking up the fight to make a difference for them.
Let's make one thing clear – she wasn’t a saint. And she was the first to say so. She could be brutally blunt in a “get out of my way, this needs to get done” kind of way. She didn’t suffer fools gladly and the energy many would say made her a unique force of nature could turn into a gale force wind if she thought you were wrong and she was right -- but that was Elizabeth – she was human.
And her inspirational message to all of us was really quite simple “when it's raining out – enjoy the rain.” That was the message Elizabeth Edwards taught me that made a difference in my life.
Because of Elizabeth Edwards I was back in 2008. I just finished working for Jerry Brown’s successful campaign for Governor of California in 2010 and I’ve been working for the American Cancer Society’s More Birthdays campaign -- an assignment Elizabeth Edwards helped me to get.
But that’s her legacy – hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of people out there who have learned from her that when it rains – enjoy the rain. People who are living lives of meaning and making a difference big and small because they were inspired by this scrappy, resilient, smart and determined woman who knew better than most of us that the days of our lives are numbered so make every second count.
Joe Trippi is a Fox News contributor and political strategist who worked for Ted Kennedy, Walter Mondale and Gary Hart and turned Howard Dean into an unlikely front runner in 2004. For more visit JoeTrippi.com.