The Affair (a fable)

by Benjamin Kuipers

Suppose that a man and a woman had an affair. (It might not even have happened, but for this story, suppose it did.)

The affair was wrong, and they both knew it , but it is a very human sort of wrong. Let he or she who is without sin (not just without this sin) cast the first stone.

Even though the relationship could never be more than temporary, they cared for each other. Both wanted no harm to come to either one of them, or to their reputations or their families.

So they kept their affair a secret.

But the woman had a girlfriend who found out. Maybe she guessed, or maybe the woman couldn't resist sharing the secret that was bursting inside her, for her lover was a very important man.

And here the story turns ugly, for the girlfriend was a false friend indeed, as bad as any witch in a fairy tale.

The man had a deadly enemy who was sworn to destroy him using any means, fair or foul. The girlfriend told the enemy about the affair. And he plotted to use it to destroy the man. The girlfriend was promised a large sum of money and great fame for her role in bringing down such an important man. She may yet receive it.

The affair was wrong, and would be very hurtful if the secret were told, but it was not enough to destroy the man. So the enemy plotted how to turn it into a larger disgrace.

The woman was asked, under oath, about the affair. Wanting to protect her lover, herself, and their secret, she denied it. This was a great risk, for if she could be proved wrong, she would be seriously punished.

The man was asked about the affair, not under oath but in public. Wanting to protect his lover, himself, and their secret, especially now that she had taken such a great risk for him, he also denied it. They were now both very vulnerable. The affair alone would not destroy the man, but if he lied under oath, or had instructed the woman to lie under oath, he could be destroyed.

And the enemy had one more weapon. At his instruction, the girlfriend had taped her conversations with the woman, first illegally over the telephone, then by wearing a body microphone, while the woman still trusted and confided in her. So they had evidence of the affair.

The enemy now descended upon the woman. While the man was important, powerful, and experienced in defending himself, the woman was young and inexperienced. She was threatened with terrifying punishments unless she confessed to the affair and to her previous perjury, under oath. If she confessed, and destroyed her lover, she might escape herself. But she must decide quickly, for if outside proof of the affair is found before she confesses, she is also lost.

The man and the woman can never talk privately or even see each other again. Her advisors tell her to save herself and let the powerful man, her lover, take his own chances with his powerful enemy.

What will she decide? How will this story come out? The next few days will tell.

But whether this story is the tragedy of the downfall of a powerful man, or the triumph of a young woman caught in the middle of a battle of titans, we know who are the good guys and who are the bad guys.

This story is happening in the real world. The good guys don't always win. But we can all recognize the moral difference between a secret love affair on the one side, and on the other a betrayal of friendship and deadly enmity without bound or scruple.

We know right from wrong here. And we know that cold, calculating sins are the hardest ones to forgive.

Written 1/27/1998. This was in the early stages of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and of course now we know much more about the facts of the case and how it all worked out. I still believe this fable captures important parts of the real dynamics of the situation.