Back in the day, the news about the separation of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver would have found me engaging in non- stop schadenfruede. When I would refer to Arnold, I used to call him the "boobengrabber". I couldn't believe voters ignored all the stories about his loutish and sexist behavior on movie sets. The L.A. Times faced withering criticism of trying to mess with the outcome when they published their story on all the accusations just days before the election. At that time, Maria defended him completely. Despite the revelations, or at least the rumors, he was re-elected and got a fair amount of the women's vote.
I knew Maria Shriver in passing. I taught her brother in high school, was a guest at her house on occasion and worked with her mother, Eunice, on a project to help reduce the number of teen pregnancies and increase the number of full weight babies born to teens. The few times I encountered her in Washington D. C. or when we were both covering news events, she was aloof, prickly and full of herself. She was in many ways the opposite of her mother and father.
Given such background, and given I thought Governor Schwarzenegger was a disaster for California, the fact of their separation should have been great grist for my mill. Instead, my first reaction was one of sadness. I spent a good portion of my professional life judging others and feeling free to cast aspersions and question personal morality. I was quick to condemn and didn't make much of a separation between the person and their politics or policies. I could be vicious and relentless. I'm not in the judging business anymore. Part of this shift in perspective is a result of my own fall from grace (the old people who live in glass houses adage). I worry people will ignore the majority of my life and reduce it down to one mistake. It's an easy way to put someone in a comfortable box and enjoy their struggles. I don't fit in a box. There was a me before my disastrous mistake in judgment and I resent being reduced to a caricature by some. Having now walked a few miles in the governor and his wife's shoes, I will make a distinction between their public and private selves and allow they could be vastly different.
The other reason my reaction to their separation is subdued is because "...there but for the grace of God go I." When my fall became public, it was both national and local news. It is impossible to describe the humiliation and embarrassment my family had to go through. At that moment, I offered to divorce my wife. It would be a symbolic act signifying she had nothing to do with my behavior, condemned it, and was kicking me to the curb in reaction to it (all of which is true as to her reaction except for the final conclusion). I thought a divorce would protect her from being tarred by fallout caused by my stupidity. She looked me straight in the eye and said, "...I married you for better or worse, and this is the worst ever, but I am not going anywhere." There is not a soul who would have criticized my wife for divorcing me. It made good sense and she would avoid being dragged underwater by the tsunami of coverage and condemnation coming my way. Yet, she did not choose this option. In no way am I trying to suggest we are somehow superior or better than the Governor and his wife, I'm just saying a marriage is a very private and complicated structure and presuming to know why two people act in one way or the other is a dangerous activity to engage in.
The great actor, Jimmy Cagney, was married for 50 years. As Hollywood marriages go, that is extraordinary. He was once asked his secret. His response was one word..."expectations." He said our expectations about marriage are unrealistic and no marriage could live up to the picture painted by the movies and in the minds of romantics. He and his wife kept their expectations reasonable and rode out the highs and lows. Marriage in our culture has become an institution in name only. It is almost easier to end one than it is to start one. We live in a disposable society where we discard anything no longer useful or relevant and move on to something new. It should be lost on no one; the states with the highest divorce rates are below the buckle of the Bible belt. Religious fervor or fundamentalist beliefs are no predictor of a long marriage. It is also ironic one of the most contentious debates in society today is whether or not to allow two people of the same sex to marry. At a time of high divorce rates, and rising rates of people not marrying at all, you would think we would cheer to see a segment of our population fighting for the right to marry.
I have no idea why Arnold and Maria have separated. Perhaps she had played the good wife while he was in political office, but now that it was over she felt it was time to act. Perhaps she was constrained by her Catholic faith in which the Church is opposed to divorce and remarriage. Who knows? Maybe they just fell out of love. The Catholic Church believes every sacrament has an outward sign. The sign of marriage is the love between the two people. If it is no longer there, perhaps there is no marriage anymore. Maybe they will figure out a solution and an accommodation and be able to stay married. They have four children, as do my wife and I. My children are blessed with a mother who decided to try and hang in there and keep the family together and I am committed to rebuilding the damage I have done to our relationship. I hope, no matter what the ultimate outcome, the four Schwarzenegger/Shriver children are loved and cared for by both parents.
There is no joy or satisfaction watching a 25-year marriage disintegrate. Too often, as we argue and attack over political issues, we forget the other side is populated with people the same as us. We want to portray them as the "other" because it makes it easier to demonize them and fun to enjoy their failures and defeats. I will still attack and condemn regressives and expose the harm their policies will cause this nation, but I will try much harder not to portray them as "other" and to commiserate with their sorrow or pain whether they return the favor or not.
The tabloids will have a field day with this latest scandal. It will not be something I want to read about or advance any prurient curiosity in any way. I'm sad a family is in turmoil and it has to be played out in public. It is not an experience I would wish on my worst enemy.
I am a lucky and blessed man. I could have been thrown under the bus and had to endure this trial by myself. Instead, I have a loving wife and children, a marvelous extended family, and friends like so many of you. The gratitude I feel, and the knowledge it could have been so different, causes me to be sad when a marriage ends, when families suffer, when children are left to wonder about the future and my only regret is I didn't have this perspective a long time ago.