(Saturday morning revision: Now that Sanford has likened himself to King David, I have lost all sympathy I might have had for him. I still think the following is worth pondering, but he can go fuck himself now as far as I'm concerned.)
About 3 years ago I was introduced to a series of books by Jacqueline Carey that have come to be known as Kushiel’s Legacy. It’s stories that are right up my alley that integrate alternate history, fantasy and open sexuality. The book pictured above is the latest in the series and I'm guessing the beginning of a third trilogy.
Without going into a lot of detail, the basic tenet of the religion that is followed by the main characters in the first two trilogies is “Love As Thou Wilt” It is a commandment to follow your heart, because wisdom and truth are found in even the most harsh explorations of one’s own expression of love and sexuality.
These words struck me hard when I first read them, touching a place deep within where I long to live. It’s a philosophy that in many ways I have always admired and aspired to, though I don’t know that I’ve ever really followed it very well, at least not until the last few years and even then not as strongly as I like. Still…I try.
It is how, more and more, I view the world each day.
I’ve watched with a mix of sorrow and glee as one by one more of our political leaders confess to infidelities of one type or another. I mostly feel glee when I watch it coming from sanctimonious Republicans like Vitter, Ensign and especially Craig It amuses me to watch them confess their sins and yet refuse to take the consequences they insisted Bill Clinton suffer over a decade ago. They never seem to learn. They never show an ounce of humility or real shame. They never take the responsibility they insist the rest of the world take. Instead they shamelessly continue on their path of judgment and hypocrisy as if they’ve actually atoned for their “sin”. Elliot Spitzer had the good sense and grace to resign at least. Maybe if John Edwards shuts up long enough he might redeem his behavior too.
And there was Governor Mark Sanford on Wednesday.
I watched with tremendous discomfort as the man, realizing the jig was up, attempted to air his demons and face his laundry in a long, rambling, confused press conference. He struck me as sincere, lost, and vulnerable. Yes, still hypocritical. He’s not resigning as he insisted others do, but here’s the difference I see.
Unlike Vitter, who went to prostitutes, or Ensign who was just plain cheating or Craig who was seeking a thrill in a bathroom with a man after a career of condemning homosexuals, Mark Sanford seems to be genuinely and quite deeply in love.
This doesn’t excuse the fact that he appears to have used taxpayer money to see his lover, or that he abandoned his post for 5 days, or that he spent Father’s Day away from his four young sons to be with his girlfriend (as a dad I find this particularly infuriating), but it does give me some sense of sympathy for the guy, a sense of his pain.
So many of us get so caught up in dogma of one kind or another, be it religious or political, that we start making sure we behave in ways we feel we should, rather than accepting what we are. Watching Sanford, I saw a man who was genuinely struggling with that very thing. He felt genuine guilt for his irresponsibility, but we know from his emails how deeply he feels for this woman in Argentina.
No one who has ever loved so deeply should judge that or hold hit against him. No one who has ever felt the pain of a love that is limited by circumstance should hold such a thing against him.
Love as thou wilt.
There is a very good book that was made into an HBO movie, Empire Falls. Toward the end, there is a scene between father and daughter. The daughter is lamenting that she didn’t love a boy who ended up going on a shooting rampage in her school, because perhaps it might have prevented the tragedy. Her father, played by Ed Harris responds “You can train your mind and you can learn from experience and that's what growing up is. And you can take responsibility for your actions. But you can't make your heart behave. Take it from one who knows. You will love who you love. Don't ever apologize for that. Don't ever feel you have to.”
He may feel regret for hurting his family, or letting down his friends, those are things to apologize for, but maybe we hold unreasonable expectations for how we love.
Maybe in addition to calling the man to task for shirking his responsibilities we can stop covering the nonsense of his affair and stick to the real issues. I don’t care what any politician does with their private life. It's not our business, unless they are committing crimes.
Obviously, if you know me at all, I’m not a fan of his politics, but that’s not my point today.
I hope that one day we all find ways to be truer to our hearts and to avoid the rigid dogmas that keep us from loving as we do. I hope that this experience will inspire Sanford to rethink his own views on the world and also figure out what he needs to do for his own sake as well as for his family’s and his lover’s.
He ought to resign, not just because of his own remarks and that he’s demonstrated gross irresponsibility, but also because he needs to figure his heart out.. I hope he’s honest with himself; otherwise he will never be honest with South Carolina.