South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford is holding onto his job for dear life. The state capital and TV and radio talk shows are abuzz with political gossip and elbowing. On many levels, this is an open and shut case: Sanford got caught in an extramarital affair and moreover went AWOL for five days – he should go. But, before we slam shut the door on Sanford, I can't help but ask, "What can we learn from Mrs. Sanford?" I followed the unfolding news about Gov. Sanford, when he couldn't be found by either his staff or the news media. At first we were told he was away, getting some much needed rest; then, it was said that he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. Eventually we found out that neither his staff nor his wife knew his whereabouts. Such a disappearance would be odd for anyone, let alone a governor who holds responsibility for state affairs. After all, what would have happened if there had been some kind of emergency?
Of course, in reality, there was an emergency. A governor and husband and father had gone missing, no less on Father's Day. I can’t help but wonder how Sanford got himself into this mess. In mid-life myself (ouch!), I can understand his own restlessness and desire to fill the missing pieces in his life. I know lots of people in the 40s and 50s struggling with such things. That the struggle is common does nothing to change the reality -- his actions were reprehensible.
And then there's Mrs. Sanford, whom I don't know, but have come to deeply admire. She has exhibited a sense of balance, character, and authenticity that all too often are missing from public life, even from our own private lives. Consider, for example, that she didn't show up at Sanford's mea culpa press conference, as so many "political wives" have done for their overcharged husbands. She wasn't going to be used as a prop, merely to buttress a man who went astray. In effect, she said, the Governor, her husband, would have to stand up and account for himself.
When asked in the past couple of days to talk about her husband's political future, she said that was his concern, not hers; her only concern was the health and viability of her family and four young boys. Indeed, she told Sanford to leave their home after his latest escapades because she wanted to maintain her dignity and integrity in the eyes of her boys.
For Mrs. Sanford there has been no histrionics, no bearing of her soul publicly, no cheap therapy sessions before the cameras. But nor has she covered up the pain, or pretended that everything will be fine, or sought to maintain the picture of a perfect family. Even more, she hasn't gratuitously dressed down her husband in public, because she doesn't need to: her actions say it all.
What separates Governor Sanford from Mrs. Sanford is that he bloviated about morals and ethics, pointed fingers at others, engaged in political posturing for news cameras. Along the way he got lost. She, on the other hand, seems to know what’s important in life, and has found what it means to be authentic: it is not whether we are "liked" or admired or even loved, but rather whether we are able to see and hear the reality around us, and reflect it for what it is, and stay true to it to the best of our abilities.
I believe deeply in redemption, especially when people somehow lose their footing and must find their way back onto a better path. Maybe now Governor Sanford can find his way. But I also appreciate people like Mrs. Sanford, who stand up for what they believe and demonstrate through their actions what it means to be real in a world that often seems fake.