Virtue and Integrity (dé or te 德)
I made good on a lost wager today. The wager was with a colleague, a woman two months older than I with whom I shared a remarkably similar late childhood and early adulthood. She was a South Carolinian and I lived most of my life in Florida. She and I, in separate parts of the world, marched, sat-in, protested, and worked on behalf of civil rights, women’s rights, sexual minority rights—you get the picture.
She was a Nurse Practitioner and Midwife. She cared for poor women who had no other healthcare options. She attended countless births. We both ended up in Washington state, where she was a volunteer EMT and worked on a Search and Rescue team with her cadaver dog, Noble, in a small, rural community.
I am out to my co-workers, and she was among the first with whom I shared my sexual orientation. Her reaction defined the difference between tolerance and acceptance. She was also deeply interested in Buddhism. If thought of as Buddhists, we shared a determination not to talk about our shared interest abstractly. We also shared a different form of a common disease.
We talked about tips and techniques for surviving chemo and when our hair disappeared, we shared watch caps. The wager was one-sided. If she died first, I would attend any service her family arranged. If I died first, she would attend my service, except that I have been clear that I will have no service. So, today I paid the one-sided debt.
Our last conversation was about the concept of virtue as expressed in Chinese thought about how to live as a human being. Virtue in this sense has little to do with the Western concept delivered to us by the Roman notion of vir, in which is embedded in the notion of manliness. The Chinese notion has its roots in growing up from the earth as a plant grows and speaks of integrity and what Buddhists sometimes call suchness or thusness, which brings argument and discussion to silence.
Why did she suggest such a wager? I believe she asked because she knew that I would have something to say to her grandchildren about the woman of whose suchness they are inheritors.