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I GOTTA BE ME IS NOT IN THE HYMNAL
November 20, 2003
 
Crossing the street, I study the pavement as I near the curb: I know that the rapids will be narrower in one spot than in others, narrow enough to step across, and I must find that spot. Why that is, I do not know, but it is true at almost every corner: you can usually find a narrow place over which to hop back up onto the sidewalk.

The water is fast as it heads toward the grate. It carries everything with it, and it soon overwhelms the capacity of the pipes below the street to receive it, so that water flows forwards and backwards at once around the openings. It carries all the litter people throw in the New York streets down, down, and then carries it a distance, so that it appears on the beach in New Jersey next summer. That's why you found a hypodermic needle on the beach: not because people are shooting up there, but because people are shooting up here. Truth: beach litter comes primarily from the city street. It commutes, like everybody else.

All the beautiful things are one, and all the unlovely things are one, as well. The same one. Nothing happens alone. Everything effects everything else. There isn't just an ecology of the natural world -- there's an ecology of everything.

We don't really believe this. We take our strong sense of self and project it onto the world, convincing ourselves that we are really separate and autonomous. We lean against the piano and sing "I Gotta Be Me," and feel courageous. This must be what integrity is, we think as we sing: not letting anybody tell me what to do. This must be it.

But that is not what integrity is. That is something else. Self-absorption, I think.

Integrity is being brave enough to see my actions clearly, in all their implications -- the implications for me, yes, but also for the ones whose lives they will affect. Integrity is being brave enough and honest enough to accept the ecology of my actions, and not try to explain it away in either a stammer or a bellow of self-justification. Integrity is knowing that there really is no such thing as a free lunch, not here on earth -- heaven is a glorious banquet, absolutely free, but down here, you pay.
Copyright © 2018 Barbara Crafton
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