I was watching a TED talk done by Monica Lewinsky the other day, and I was struck by how much I liked her. I didn’t expect that. I still had this image in my mind of the Monica Lewinsky who slept with the president knowing full well that he was married, and then tossed him under the bus. I’m sure it wasn’t quite so cut-and-dried–what in politics ever is?– but I still judged her. Sleeping with the president? Stupid, plain and simple. Especially when the First Lady is Hilary Clinton–not a woman I’d cross!
I mean, I could point out that she’d been a 22-year-old intern who’d garnered the attention of the most powerful man in the world, and perhaps a “No” wasn’t quite so easy to say. There was definitely a power imbalance there. Not only was he older and more experienced, but he was her president. Or maybe she enjoyed the personal power of getting his attention. Maybe she believed whatever honeyed words he offered her. I don’t know. But when that scandal broke, a then 24-year-old intern would have been the pawn of every power-hungry, cut-throat politician who had something to gain or something to lose from the president’s downfall. She was no free agent… not anymore. And in spite of all of that, I sincerely believe that 22-year-olds who do something infinitely stupid deserve a second chance.
In this TED talk, I saw a different side to Ms. Lewinsky. I saw the 41-year-old who had grown and learned, who had been bullied by the entire world and came out of it more compassionate. It could have gone the other way. She could have become bitter and hardened. She could have made it her life’s work to ruin the Clintons. I’m sure she would have had support in that. But she didn’t. And I realized that nearly twenty years after the event, I actually liked her.
If we freeze people at their worst mistake and never let them move past it, then we keep our world at its worst. Redemption. Personal growth. Call it what you will, we all need a little forgiveness.
There is a story in the Bible about a woman who was slut-shamed. She ended up pouring perfume on Jesus’ feet, and while everyone looked down on her, Jesus said, “Her many sins have been forgiven, for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little, loves little.” (Luke 7:47)
I hope to one day see that Monica Lewinsky has gotten married. I know that marriage doesn’t rescue anyone, and I know that being married doesn’t redeem anyone either, but I’d still like to see her meet a man who would love her for the woman she has become, and in spite of the mistakes she’s made. I believe that her hard-won compassion would make her wiser and kinder. I believe she could love harder and stronger for what she’s endured.
And I believe that everyone deserves another chance and a Happily Ever After. Even Monica Lewinsky.