Years ago when the Dicksons were still ferrying junior family members to and fro for summer camps, we found ourselves at a large table in a loud and busy pizza parlor with two other young families one night before the opening of a sports camp the following morning.
    Those in our own boisterous crowd included the five Dicksons, my favorite Raleigh cousin, her husband and their four sons, and a family we had not met before but who turned out to be a successful Raleigh attorney and his wife and their two children: A daughter and a son who would be attending the sports camp.
A fine evening and lots of pizza were had by all.
    The whole world now knows the third family as John and Elizabeth Edwards and their children, Cate and Wade, who died several summers later in a car accident on I-40. In the curious way of the world, I bumped into them again the following weekend at a camp for girls where we were both dropping off our daughters.
    Our camp trips seem now, just as they did then, normal summer activities for families with active young children. No one had any inkling that John Edwards would become first a United States senator and later a candidate for president, or that Elizabeth would remain a private citizen and still become one of the most admired women in America.
    {mosimage}We had absolutely no idea that John Edwards would go on to become yet another poster boy for excruciatingly bad behavior by a well-known politician. 
    I am reading and hearing all the same outrage toward Edwards that everyone in this nation is absorbing these days. There is speculation about when the affair between Edwards and a hired videographer began and how long it lasted. Who knew about it? Edwards has said he told his family but when? Was it before or after his wife of more than three decades and four children, Elizabeth, was diagnosed with a recurrence of cancer, which is now incurable. Is Edwards still in contact with his mistress, and, above all, is he the father of her infant daughter whose birth certificate lists only the mother’s name?
    What about the married Edwards’ staffer who seems to be taking the fall on the paternity issue?
    Some, if not most, of these questions will probably never be answered publicly, and perhaps they should not be since Edwards is no longer an elected official charged with the public trust. Perhaps this entire affair is no more our business than if the situation involved a perfectly ordinary private family down the street.
Do women elected to high office behave this way? Maybe so, but I have never heard about it.
    Some men in high office, however, have made astoundingly bad decisions. 
    Think former Colorado senator and one-time 1988 Presidential frontrunner in Gary Hart. With rumors of womanizing circulating, Hart challenged the national media. “Follow me around. I don’t care. If anybody wants to put a tail on me, go ahead. They’ll be very bored.” 
    They did and they were not.
    An attractive young model was spotted leaving the senator’s apartment, and the two were later photographed aboard a yacht named — of all things, Monkey Business. The frontrunner dropped out of the presidential race. 
    Think President Bill Clinton.
    In a historic second term, with a strong economy and a balanced budget, he took up with a White House intern only slightly older than his own daughter. In a particularly creepy twist on degrees of separation, my favorite Raleigh cousin’s brother had somehow arranged a special tour of the White House for his family during that time. They were viewing the Oval Room one quiet Saturday afternoon when the Secret Service suddenly hustled them out, saying the president had an unexpected meeting. Much later, the investigative Starr report published the White House visitors’ log for that day.
    The only meeting participants that afternoon were the President and the intern.
    Think Elliot Spitzer, New York’s crusading and seemingly fearless prosecutor turned governor, who lost his job and his credibility in Washington’s elegant Mayflower Hotel with a high-dollar call girl.
    And now we have our own John Edwards whose story of betrayal and deception is still unfolding and whose family and loyal political supporters feel angry, disappointed, and deeply betrayed.
    What were these men thinking? 
    Each of them is clearly talented and each clearly wanted to use his intellectual gifts and political skills for the betterment of our nation.
    Was what brought them down arrogance, a feeling that they were so special they could behave in ways the rest of us cannot? Did they believe they were so vastly different from the people they served? Was it what we call in our family, “high self esteem?”
    Countless lessons wait in all of these sad and tawdry tales, but one stands out to me. 
    None of us — wife or husband, mother or father, daughter or son, colleague or confidante - can ever truly know another’s heart.

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