escorting elizabeth edwards

Elizabeth Edwards had been abandoned at a venue by her handlers and needed an escort. One of the event organizers caught me rummaging through the craft service, otherwise idle, and asked if I would be so kind – I certainly would.

Edwards didn’t look sixty. Or sick. And more than anything, I remember being taken aback at how present and content she seemed, despite her circumstances. I called her Elizabeth when introducing myself and cringed at my own informality.

She noticed and laughed, “Buffy is an old English nickname for Elizabeth, you know.” I said I knew and mentioned The Queen Mum. Edwards asked about my accent, “Kentucky or Northern Ireland?” I said she was very nearly spot-on, on both counts, and told her the story about how I came to be where I came to be.

Elizabeth Edwards

We chatted briefly about the health care system in the UK. The need for improvement and expansion at home. About literacy in the mountains. And about Eudora Welty. I gushed about southern gothic, its influence on me, and my own ambitions.

“Don’t wait.” That’s what she said to me. “You’re never too old. But don’t wait.”

Elizabeth Edwards waited thirty years, after studying literature at UNC Chapel Hill in the seventies, to return to her writing. When we met she was promoting her second memoir, “Resilience: Reflections on the Burdens and Gifts of Facing Life’s Adversities”. I apologized for not having read it, admitted my embarrassment. She smiled and told me how much she loved the campus we were on.

That was last year.

I’ve thought about our brief encounter often. Edward’s advice, ‘don’t wait’, and how loaded that phrase must have been. Her passing really does sadden my heart.

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