But Ye Are Justified (Part I)
A new gay history revives the redemptive witness of Whittaker Chambers
And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.
The streets were empty. The city was asleep. He knocked, but there was no answer. He could see that her window was open a little way, because nobody would be foolish enough to try to reach it from the landing. But Whittaker Chambers wouldn’t be the first man to do something foolish for love.
“Go away!” the little voice had answered tearfully when he first knocked earlier that evening. “The party says I cannot see you. We can never meet again.”
The voice belonged to Esther Shemitz, a young, carefree, sensitive artist. She lived in a “tuberculosis trap” in New York’s East Side, a brick house cut off from the light by towering cold-water tenements. The first time he saw her, he was a journalist covering a textile workers’ strike in Passaic, New Jersey. She burst out of one of the strike halls before the police could stop her. “Get that bitch in the brown beret!” they shouted. With her head held high, she walked towards the officers as they closed in, clubs swinging. He watched her from a distance, captivated by the fire in her deep brown eyes, by the strong, pure planes of her face. “Now there,” he thought, “is a Communist.”
Later, she was quick to correct this thought. She was not a Communist, in fact, but a pacifist. Officially, this would never change, but unofficially, she became a fellow traveler. The smallest hint of injustice enraged her. In her spare time, she mocked up posters of angry, hatless proletarians storming unspecified barricades with revolutionary fists in the air. This work very much pleased two older women patrons in the party—a couple whose interest in each other, and perhaps also in Esther, was more than merely professional.
Chambers wished Esther wouldn’t spend so much time on those posters. She was not a revolutionary at heart, he told her. She was not born for this. She was born to paint green fields and cool trees and falling brooks. She was born to save him. She was born to be his wife.
But the party had other plans. He was a true believer, but he wasn’t submissive enough. He was irreverent. He needed to be tamed. And so Whittaker Chambers must not go on seeing Esther Shemitz. The party said so, and the party was never wrong.
Now here he was, so hopelessly in love that he would defy anyone, face any fear to reach her—including the fear of small heights.
He looked down at the flagstones, his head swimming. Swinging from the rail, he reached the window ledge and pulled himself in. Then he sat down to explain how it was to his astonished girl. She must make a choice, he told her. She must choose between life and death.
She tolerated this, but he could tell his eloquence was lost on her. She listened as a kindness. If a man loved her enough to climb through her window at five in the morning, there was not much point in arguing.
They could not have known that twenty years later, Esther would cry out against another kind of injustice. Only this time, the men she faced down carried no weapons. And they weren’t just coming for her. They were coming for him.