By Renee Geel
A bright spotlight has been shining harshly on New York all week as we have wrestled with the aftermath of Governor Eliot Spitzer’s resignation and his involvement with a sex scandal. Not only is the rest of the country looking at us, but we’re forced to look at ourselves as New Yorkers, too, with a mix of emotions and reactions to this week’s news.
Repeatedly, I have run into people this week with whom the conversation has turned quickly to these events with words like disappointment, unbelievable, and foolish punctuating opinion, and with sentiments like shock, firm-jawed desire for comeuppance, and sadness.
This situation is dumbfounding to say the least as we look outwardly from our own internal worlds, eyes focused on the Governor and his family. And while I, too, am filled with sadness and shock and disappointment, what lays most heavily inside me is the frightening realization that we are all capable of making what are deemed wrong or bad decisions.
I am not trying to justify Governor Spitzer’s actions; I am, like so many millions of others, trying to understand them.
What I keep coming back to is that we are all both governors and subjects of our own strengths and weaknesses, capabilities and frailties, opportunities and regrets. The world and our existence in it are in a constant and precarious tango of strategy and chance. The decisions we made yesterday won’t necessarily be the ones we’ll make today, and the circumstances we come up against are just as variable.
I am left still believing in the notion of free will, but also convinced that there are times when it is an immense challenge to exercise it. Perhaps somewhere deep inside, we get tired of all the taskmastering we subject ourselves to in the name of ambition and propriety; sometimes, perhaps, we are lured just to lose the battle with our free will – to experience that delicious danger and supreme surrender. If ambition and achievement are any indication of one’s internal taskmaster, I suspect that Eliot Spitzer’s is nearly relentless. Nearly. And for many years, that taskmaster served him and the public well. But even if we do need to release ourselves from our self-imposed chokehold sometimes – even if he needed that – I wish he’d chosen something less catastrophic. Desire and regret: I wish, I wish...If only, if only. On and on our daily struggle goes.
The New York Times ran a piece exploring why Governor Spitzer thought he might be one who wouldn’t get caught. And it went on to provide a list of transgressions by public officials in the past, of which there was quite a number – just the tip of the iceberg, I suspect. But there is no relative scale of good and bad judgment because we only know what we know. What about all the transgressions people have gotten away with since the beginning of time, transgressions that never became public? I imagine it’s far more common than we realize that people give into their impulses.
We can’t go back now; there is no rewind button to make this past week go away. Nor can we act as though the rest of the world has held its breath while we come to terms with all of this. With a new Governor stepping into the job on Monday, life - and hopefully New York State government - can proceed. Meanwhile, troops are still battling it out in Iraq; a war crimes trial in The Hague has begun; and plenty of people – named and unnamed – have lied, stolen, cheated, betrayed, and murdered.
It’s a delicate balance, this business of being human. We have to look out from ourselves at the world around us and know that we are not its epicenter and that we need to do our part and hopefully make the best decisions we can every day. And we have to come to terms with the fact that it won’t always be the case. We need to look deeply inside and know that all of us have committed our own transgressions – whether secret or revealed – and that we affect the world as much as we are affected by it.
Renee Geel is a freelance writer and editor from upstate New York and is currently running -- and tripping a little, too -- to the finish line of her novel.