How do you solve a problem like Maria?
How do you catch a cloud and pin it down? The melody of this sprightly song, followed by the wedding processional in The Sound of Music, resounded from the pipe organ as Maria Shriver walked down the aisle to wed Arnold Schwarzenegger. Like Maria in the musical story, the sparkling bride made her way toward a groom made in Austria. But who was he, really, compared to her? Lucky to be on a doubles court with her when they met at a tennis tournament, in the Hyannis church, in life itself. Together, the living looked easy, like a Broadway musical—but not until death did them part.
Get me rewrite, if we're freshening up the plot. Maria Shriver, our American Maria, should have been the one running for public office all along. She herself seems to regret giving up her career in network news for years to be a political spouse. In our current version, her husband is exposed as having the soul of a scoundrel and cunning of a pretender—fathering a child outside their marriage, but inside their home. The former bodybuilder and California's ex-governor now seems ready to return to acting, a talent of his we didn't appreciate fully before now. [Read 10 things you didn't know about Schwarzenegger.]
Shriver's situation stands for what can happen to even the "best and brightest" when the music stops. This loss, a shattering defeat of a dream, comes home to many like her, who graduated from college in the 1970s and 1980s, ready to take on the world and workplace. We were the most privileged wave of young women in American history. Trust me, a lot of locked doors opened up to us—at exclusive bastions such Princeton University, Amherst College, the University of Virginia, the military academies, and in college athletics, played at a new level thanks to Title IX.
Like Maria, the young nun who left the abbey with nothing but a suitcase full of confidence, Maria Shriver's love affair with the world was blooming. (It will again.) Today, her Irish blue-eyed beauty undiminished, she carries herself with a certain class that can't be bought or taught as she faces the other side of the life the Irish excel at: tragedy and grief. Her family on her mother's Kennedy side has been there so many times before. But each visit to the vale of tears is fresh-fallen. She will not come back unchanged.
How ironic the groom got to be a Republican governor of a Democratic state, running on her word defending him from seamy sexual allegations. Shriver also dusted her husband with the gold of her name, her advice, and her expertise in the media and the family sport of politics. In a way, she betrayed her own political views and values, as well as her incredible Kennedy and Shriver family inheritance, by spending it on him. This may be a part of the cross she has to bear right now: She did a public disservice to a troubled state by helping the inept Schwarzenegger get elected governor twice. She also spared him the wrath of her mother Eunice, which was kind, waiting until her parents passed away to share the news of the sham. [Check out a roundup of GOP political cartoons.]
Twenty-five years over the dam, after all the true lies have been told, her tawdry hubby does not hold a candle to the Austrian Captain von Trapp. The severe but sincere captain stood for the better side of his country under the boot of the Nazis. Edelweiss, the tender song he sang, is not just about a small and bright snow flower. As we well know, Maria, the children's governess, married the widower in The Sound of Music and in real life.
So much for mixing Marias and musicals. My point is that Shriver has the talent, training, and charisma to do all that she did for her husband for herself. She sold herself short. The times were right for her to break the mold of political wife and be the first woman in her family tree to really go for it and win statewide elected office. California is one of only two states to have two female senators, so why not a guv? Let her be a trailblazer yet in the public square. She'd loom large and inspire others out there.
The closest to Shriver I've come is meeting one of her brothers. And I once kissed someone she kissed (to paraphrase poet Edna St. Vincent Millay). Little as I know her, the lyrics sung by the nuns in The Sound of Music still seem meant for her, too:
How do you keep a wave upon the sand?
How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?