Generative properties of valor

Recently, it was announced that Elizabeth Edwards — wife of presidential candidate John Edwards — had suffered a resurgence of cancer in her bones. The prognosis for her condition was tentatively good, though the level and location of the cancer suggested the illness could be treated but never cured.

While the media speculated and inferred a variety of possible implications, the Edwardses stood steadfast together, enduring questions and interviews in a time of deep personal struggle. Elizabeth Edwards has fought cancer before — and won. The specter of the previous encounter resounded in almost all media discussions of the announcement.

One prominent question, however, was answered clearly from the beginning: John Edwards will still be running for president, undeterred — with his wife’s blessing.

Elizabeth Edwards made it clear that cancer was something she felt equipped to tackle. The prospect of preventing a “great man” like her husband from achieving a “great good,” however, was an altogether different matter.

She said she would not allow her legacy to be a contingent asterisk attached to the name of a could-have-been-great politician.

It goes without saying that the conviction and perseverance demonstrated by Elizabeth Edwards in her actions say a great deal about her ability to conceivably fend off such an aggressive and opportunistic ailment well into the future.

The connection between the mind (self) and the body is only now becoming illuminated by cutting-edge scientific research, much of which indicates that there is a profound (and profoundly misunderstood) link between mental perspective health and bodily resilience — and vice versa.

It is becoming more and more accepted in the scientific community that active thought meditations, in combination with active aerobic regimens, cannot only help undo some of the ills of aging and cellular decay, but also promote the regeneration of new, fresh nerve and brain cells.

Or, in other words, the hipbone is connected to the backbone, which is connected to the heart and brain — forever and ever, indeed.

The measure of strength, optimism and fire evidenced by Elizabeth Edwards is admirable, and it ought to act as a kind of standard for our cultural internal fortitude, as well — a true standard, unlike the “patriotism equals might equal the right” perspective of the current presidential administration.

For too long, have Americans privileged the notion of virtue over evidence of its existence — and too long have we ignored signs of its absence.

The post-Sept. 11 cultural climate is acknowledged to be one of malleable anxiety and willful ignorance, due largely — one might intuit — to the propagation of these states by influential governmental and media agencies. “War on Terror” was a mantra of passionate unthinking. Something was said to be moral and — without consideration for whether or not the signature of “right” indicated its true presence — one action after another was accepted for its sign.

“Terror” morphed into “al-Qaida,” which morphed into “Afghanistan,” which morphed into “Osama,” which morphed into “Saddam,” which morphed into “Iraq” — this behavior opens itself up to wholesale corruption and manipulation.

At the point where any thing (culture, strength, etc.) is only as powerful as the sum of its symbols, we’re in trouble.

We’re in trouble because powerful people control the symbols, meaning powerful people control the power. If we’ve learned anything from history, it’s that this is bad. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, and the control of absolute power corrupts absolutely over and over and over again.

Which is why I find such a poignant undertone to the quiet courage of Elizabeth Edwards — in this courage, there is reflexive dignity and wells of strength. These are refreshing qualities in America.

We can all take a cue from the Edwards’ behavior and start working to behave in a similar fashion — remaking us into a new, real-world image of greatness and virtue.

Everyone — Republicans and Democrats alike — who recognized the humanity in the Edwardses’ pronouncement is capable of refashioning in his or her country the image of true compassion and kindness.

Spurred by the Edwards’ strength, compassionate people could direct funds to cancer research, treatment and other biomedical developments — fields of study with predictable, significant, achievable gains in the desperately, infuriatingly near future. All that’s lacking is interest and governmental investment.

The fallout from this type of behavior (and other examples of it the world over) could usher in a new age of enlightenment — scientific fields such as particle physics, stem cell technology, pollution-reduction mechanics, etc., could be pursued with the fervor known only to the globalizing military-industrial complex. We could reposition our efforts and, realistically, live a markedly utopian existence.

But, like Elizabeth Edwards, every person must first acknowledge his or her potential for change and note the conscious recognition such behavior necessitates.

Once we do, we will understand cowardice as not only undignified but individually and morally reprehensible. If all it takes to better our lives is to willingly say, “OK, yes,” then we are criminally negligent if we say anything else.