I won’t abandon my integrity, even if you abandon me

Clouds from my dentist's office

I feel like talking about the Book of Job again. This might be because a month ago I was asked to speak at Anchorage Unitarian Universalist Fellowship (AUUF) on June 26, which coincides with the end of Alaska PrideFest, on the “need for liberal religious people to reach out to the LGBTQ community,” and today I was asked for the name I wanted to give my talk so it could be printed in the AUUF’s bulletin.

I told Beatrice — that’s Beatrice Hitchcock, AAUF’s interim minister — to title my talk “Take it to Heart: Faith & LGBT Youth.” “The first half of that title,” I told her, “is based on a poem I wrote, called ‘Sermon,’ which I plan to begin my presentation with” — that’s a poem based on the Book of Job — and went on to explain,

I will probably continue the presentation after the poem with Job: the idea of holding on to one’s integrity, in line with the UU principle of “the inherent dignity and worth of every person” and how members of liberal faiths needs not only to teach that to “their own” but also to reach out to people who have been taught to internalize self-hate & give them new heart… as it were.

(Yes, I’ve been reading a bit about Unitarian Universalism. I’m not a member, stubborn non-joiner me — but I am in profound agreement with the Unitarian Universalist 7 principles, the first of which — “The inherent worth and dignity of every person” — I relate to all that I think about that so-important-to-me word, integrity.)

And then again, I might want to talk about the Book of Job because I’ve been delving deeply into my email-retentive archives. The archives, in particular, of an email discussion list I belonged to during the latter half of 1998, when I was reeling from the loss of a relationship & the betrayal I felt over it.  As it happened, my partner & I later came back together — but in 1998 I didn’t know that would happen, & in 1998 I was hurting. Hurting like Hell.  And anyone who was on that list knows just exactly the double-sense in which I mean that word.

(Parenthetical: The character Hell from my portion of the shared story I crafted on that list has been renamed Helvetti in the novel form of the story, which is called Mistress of Woodland. Which I am working on again.  Which is why I’m delving into the email archive, because it holds much of the raw material of which Mistress of Woodland is made. Helvetti is Finnish for hell.)

In 1998, the Book of Job was already important to me.  I had, after all, already written that poem “Sermon.”  But now it took on new meanings, stemming from my visceral sense of being like Job: innocent, yet suffering.  And, moreover, being told that my suffering was my own damn fault. Which false accusation, of course, added to my suffering.

I’d say that Job walked into my thinking when a demand was made of me, early in the breakup period, that I felt incapable of meeting, without utterly compromising & losing myself — even though not to meet the demand could possibly mean losing the one I loved out of my life altogether. Which at the time seemed a distinct possibility.

But what’s the choice, really?  I wrote back to her, an email in which I quoted the Job poem — “Sermon”

“I must abandon my integrity / or you abandon me.”

And then I said,

Well… I won’t abandon my integrity, not even for you.  Not even if you abandon me.

And I cried.  Long days of summer I cried.  Because it goes like this: call it your Self, or call it your Integrity — either way, it’s like a pole at the center of you, that you can grab onto in a high wind; or it’s an axis like the Earth’s axis, around which you spin.  If you keep a firm grip on that pole at the center of you, through even the worst storm, you’ll know where you are.  You’ll know who you are. But it won’t keep the bad shit from hurting you.

But if you let go of it, you’re lost. You’ll go kiting off into that storm, & you’ll be a long time finding yourself again, if ever you do.

That hurts worse.

I’ll have more to say about the Book of Job, both the stuff I learned back then, & the stuff I keep learning now.  But this is enough for tonight.

(I’m trying to learn how to write the reasonable-sized blog posts that other people write, instead of the long-winded posts that are my usual.  How’d I do?)

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