The Oxford English Dictionary thinks loyalty means this:
I show my loyalty by making an effort to show up and pay attention. Presence (the kind that involves both body and mind) is the rarest of all gifts, the one that is not renewable. When we want someone to know that they mean something to us, we show up. That's loyalty.
It's a struggle. I struggle with it. How can I be present for people who are doing work I believe in or who live lives I want to support? How can I find the time, the resilience, and the resources to show up? I wonder sometimes, "if I feel betrayed, does that let me off the hook? Or do I need to stay loyal to something beyond the moment?" There are times I have been less loyal or disloyal. There are times I have been loyal too long.
I have been told that I expect too much. I have heard people say variations of "there's not enough in it for me" as if it were unfair to think that someone would stand up and translate good wishes into action. Like all of you, I have sometimes been misled and sometimes been used.
Still, I'd like to hold myself accountable. Not for being loyal - that's too high a standard. I want to be accountable for making choices about when to show up and to counting the costs of not showing up. I think that loyalty involves paying attention to the costs of not showing up - costs to me and costs to the people who would value my presence. I think it means the difference between saying "I can't" and "I choose not to. . ."
Someone wrote me this week and said, "I choose not to. . . ." I respect that. It's a hard choice, and sometimes it's the right one.
But oh, I am grateful, for the dozens of times someone says, "well maybe I can. . ." And then they just show up.
The pay off for loyalty is joy.