It's taken me several days to realize this, but Jennifer Wilbanks is the anti-Ashley. Consider:
• Both women have some shoplifting in their past.
• Both have been hurled into the media spotlight (though Ashley Smith was more cooperative about being on camera).
• Both captivated the nation because of how they responded to stress.
• Both, as residents of Georgia, gave The Atlanta Journal-Constitution the chance to highlight its finer writers.
• Both are living testimonies that the eyes are the window to the soul.
But Jennifer Wilbanks has held the nation's attention for reasons other than heroism. The Journal-Constitution described the items she sought as wedding gifts:
The wedding, according to all reports, was a doozy in the making. The bride registered for more than $20,000 worth of household items, including china, crystal, sterling silver, linens, bakeware and cooking appliances.
Solitaire by Lenox, pure white with a band of platinum, was the china she chose. Lismore Tall by Waterford, a popular etched design, was her crystal of choice. Grande Baroque by Wallace, an intricate pattern introduced in 1941, was her sterling, and Union Street by Kate Spade, a sleek, modern line, her everyday stainless.
The New York Post contributed its customary subtlety of headline (CHASTE-Y RETREAT) and text:
Bolting bride Jennifer Wilbanks was chaste away -- by her fiancÃ©'s insistence on abstinence, friends of the sex-deprived couple claim.
"She told people the fact that she and [husband-to-be John Mason] were not having sex was upsetting," a friend of Wilbanks' told People magazine, which hits newsstands today.
Mason was once a "wild" guy who "dated a lot," his running pal Ted King said.
But he became a born-again virgin -- eschewing premarital sex -- five years ago after pledging himself to his Baptist faith, friends said.
"He's been saving himself for the right woman," Mason's friend Andy Parsons told the magazine.
And friends say that likely drove the marathon enthusiast to run -- from the altar.
And Cary Tennis of Salon turned cheered Wilbanks on, as she was trying to escape the creepy Bible belt:
So while the groom stewed, the media speculated and indignant townspeople knit their brows in censorious disapprobation, I secretly wished that the Runaway Bride had gone off to become a showgirl. Just for the thrill of it, I wanted to see her go as far as she could. Go, go, go, Runaway Bride! Go as far as you can from Georgia, beyond Las Vegas to California, Oregon, Alaska, across the Bering Strait to Siberia and over the Steppes into Mongolia, China, Tibet! Go, frightened bride of the South! Run from that Bible-toting paramour with the square head, flee the harsh whisky-soaked legacy of slavery and politely simmering women, flee the pecan groves and peanut farms, flee all those Southern belles who never ring and all those good old boys who are neither all that good nor all that old! Flee! Go! Run away!
Like Smith, Wilbanks appealed to her faith while she asked for privacy. But unlike Smith, she mixed in a larding of therapy-speak:
In my mind, it was never about the timing, however unfortunate. I was simply running from myself and from certain fears controlling my life.
Each day I am understanding more about who I am and the issues that influenced me to respond inappropriately. Therefore, I have started professional treatment voluntarily. . . .
As John said on countless occasions recently, may we follow the teaching of Scripture, in being kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving, just as God in Christ forgives us.
And many of the people said -- "Whatever."