Saturday, January 16, 2010

Romance with Integrity

Over the last several trips to the library I have been re-reading the Regency romances written by Georgette Heyer in the first half of the twentieth century. She was among my favorite romance writers as an adolescent, back before I had my own disappointments in romance. Her characters all have character—not all good, not all bad, but with quirks and foibles. I got started reading her again when my daughter was studying Napoleon and Waterloo. I remembered her very vivid depiction of the aftermath of the battle in An Infamous Army and wanted to read it again and share the scene with my daughter.

This past week while reading The Black Moth I realized something else that at least one of her heroes or heroines have in each book, and that is integrity. Sometimes integrity comes with a twist as in this book where the hero took the blame and society's shunning when his brother marked the cards in a high stakes game, but became a sometimes highwayman who robbed only the coaches of young and middle aged rich men for the adventure of it and, like Robin Hood, donated his takings to the poor. Heyer understood that a good novel hinges on a moral dilemma, and in her day and in her writing that clearly required having a character who did take the moral high road even when tempted to do otherwise. Heyer gives us people who have a life-long commitment to integrity, not just an occasional flirtation with it.

As always when I begin to write about words, I go to the dictionary to see what nuance of meaning I might be missing. Integrity comes from the root "entire" and has not lost that connection in our modern usage. Romance, as a noun, reminds us of a strong emotional attachment, love, fascination or appeal.

Etymology: Middle English integrite, from Middle French & Latin; Middle French integrité, from Latin integritat-, integritas, from integr-, integer entire
Date: 14th century
1: firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values : incorruptibility
2: an unimpaired condition : soundness
3: the quality or state of being complete or undivided : completeness

1. a. A love affair.
b. Ardent emotional attachment or involvement between people; love: They kept the romance alive in their marriage for 35 years.
c. A strong, sometimes short-lived attachment, fascination, or enthusiasm for something: a childhood romance with the sea.
2. A mysterious or fascinating quality or appeal, as of something adventurous, heroic, or strangely beautiful: "These fine old guns often have a romance clinging to them" (Richard Jeffries).

Last weekend I attended the memorial service for a friend of mine from church. Julia had a lifelong romance with integrity. She was someone who walked the talk. Our friend Harvey raised the question in his words of remembrance: can anyone ever truly live a Christian life? For his own faith to be sustained, he said he needs to see examples of people who do, and Julia was one such example. Her stewardship of creation included commitments to recycling, composting, vegetarianism, and energy conservation. Her commitment to love the neighbor caused her to work for social justice locally and abroad, to welcome the refugee and the homeless, and to work for peace. Her roles in the church included pastoral care and community events—always welcoming the stranger.

Another friend who spoke at the service, whose children were raised in the co-housing building where Julia lived, said that Julia was their moral compass. What Julia would do became synonymous with doing the right thing for his children. Although she suffered from Alzheimer's in her last few years, she still could speak to the reasons to do the work of community building and peace making—clearly central and what she was called to do. This work was part of her life's romance, something that she clung to even as the disease progressed.

The more common definition of romance was also a part of Julia's life. At the service, her husband of 51 years told a funny and touching story of how they met and started dating. For me, watching him cherish her and care for her when they came to my house for New Year's Day two days before she died was a gift and affirmation of romance lived out—yes, with integrity, whole and entire.

At home this week my daughter and I talked about integrity as it gets lived out in the daily life of a high school student. When the teacher makes a mistake in grading a test not in your favor, you certainly go up and make the point. She had an interesting conversation with a friend where the reverse happened—her friend got a better grade than she should have, and when my daughter suggested that she should tell the teacher he had made a mistake, her friend laughed at her. I hope that kind of response does not shake my daughter's willingness to act with integrity.

While I am proud of my daughter for her academic results and her musical gifts and her writing, I am most proud of her when I see or hear of her kindness and her own moral compass. I pray that she too will have a lifelong romance with integrity. Others in the world, like Harvey, need such examples. Both integrity and romance, or at least love and perhaps passion, are essential for our holy wholeness, our shalom. May we each have and be such people that have a passion for being whole and entire—a romance with integrity.

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