I’ve been thinking lately about the etymological relationship between the words “integer” and “integrity.” An integer is a whole number – un-fractured, un-decimaled, one might say intact. Yes, in-tact, from the Latin, meaning untouched. Integrity includes the concepts of unhurt, unchanged, sound, fresh, whole, entire, pure, honest. It includes 1) steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code, 2) the state of being wholesome, unimpaired, and 3) the quality or condition of being complete, pure. A human “integer,” then, would be a person who is whole, someone untouched by hypocrisy, a person who is one – the same inside and out.
I just came home from visiting my sweet “Second Dad” in Greenville Memorial Hospital, where he is busy fighting a particularly virulent strain of clostridium difficile (C diff.) I treasure him. Plenty of kids don’t even get a decent original dad to begin with. I had a wonderful one, and then was blessed again when I married my Steven to receive a top notch second dad in Glenn Lewis Case. He decided early on to simply accept, like, support and encourage me, and has never stopped doing just that.
So Dad, a man who’s hardly been sick a day in his long life, a man who at 80 takes just a few daily medications, who until a month ago was working a few days a week at Wal*Mart and planning his garden, has been confined to a hospital bed for the past 2 1/2 weeks. Tubes and wires are everywhere. The mobility he enjoyed for so long is now gone. His personal dignity has taken a major hit. At times he’s confused. He worries about his flowerbeds, or why he had to push a cart all night, and when can he have his pants. He called mom tonight to ask her to help him get up and dressed, because he knew that he needed to go to the hospital. He sounded quite relieved to find out he was already there.
But one thing I’ve noticed throughout all of this is that the traits and tendencies that make up my Second Dad have not changed. The sincere Christian faith that once motivated him to encourage the spiritual lives of his coworkers is seen now in his praying with a doctor or nurse. The kindness I’ve always enjoyed is clearly seen, as he repeatedly thanks his caregivers for their service to him. His calm disposition, so free of temper or bitterness, is still there in full force. His love and care for his wife, his appreciation and affection for the people in our church family – all these things are essentially unchanged. If you cut a cross section of Dad’s character – even in pain, fear and discomfort – it’s the same all the way through. He is whole. He is one. He has true integrity.
Like gold, integrity is comparatively rare. So much of human life seems to involve hiding our hurts and fears from others. How often we focus on our image, on the face we present to our bosses, to our subordinates, or at social occasions. Far, far too often, believers do the same at church. Oh, the effort we expend to protect our secret selves! Dad’s illness has made me face the fact that for many of us the time will come when the infirmities of age will make it impossible to keep those walls up. Our bodies will weaken, a random microbe will find us a suitable host, and suddenly our independence, our personal space, the comforts and habits we relied upon will all be stripped away. And then, what’s inside will be revealed.
The psalmist prayed, “Teach me Your way, O Lord. I will walk in Your truth. Unite my heart to fear Your Name.” A united heart, with no layers of secrecy. A true integer, the same through and through – at all times and in all places. Integrity. Wholeness. What you see is what you get. Yep! That’s my Second Dad.