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In Chicago

When I was little, the person I loved most in the world was my brother. He was about twelve years older than I. When I was born, my mother went into a deep depression, and my brother and sister kind of took over. They changed my diapers and held me when I cried and after about two years when my mother had recovered there was a deep bond between my brother and I.

My brother went off to college when he was seventeen. It almost broke my heart. He would come home in the summer and spend some time with us, but then off again in the fall. He taught me to read. He got me interested in biology, which is another story.

Dad died, and I was living with Mom. It was a hard time for a fifteen year old girl. My mother was living in a silent grief; my brother was off in his internship, married and with a couple of kids, and my sister lived in California. I wanted to get out, and as soon as I graduated from high school, I left for college and became an audiologist. My career was brief, and I met a guy and we got married and proceeded to have three children. He was clever with money and we had a big house and a couple of vehicles and everything we could possibly want. When the kids were all in grade school, I began working as a volunteer in the biology department at the local college, where my interest in biology emerged again. I took some graduate school courses and eventually got my PhD in microbiology.

While my life was unfolding, my brother had graduated from medical school, taken an internship and residency in internal medicine, and then become a nephrologist. As he and my sister in law raised four children, he became a kidney transplant specialist, and then took over as the chief of nephrology in a city in Connecticut.

My husband and I divorced. For many years, we had grown apart. There were moments when he was a bit abusive. We both tried to keep everything under wraps until the kids all went off to college. Then everything collapsed and we went our separate ways.
After discovering some soft tissue in the bone of a well preserved mastodon, I began experimenting with it and published a few papers. One thing led to another and before long I was a tenured professor with a grant in a University on the East Coast. My kids were scattered all over and my husband was on his second or third relationship and working towards his second heart attack. And even though I was invited to speak all over the world and had achieved minor fame in my field. I wasn't happy.

My brother had experienced some degree of fame as well. He had edited three books, written several articles and book chapters, and made a name for himself in the field of kidney disease. We were both extremely busy and had very little contact with each other except through e-mail and occasional phone conversations.

So there we were; I was 44 and he was 56. I ran every day and kept in shape. My brother was no slouch either. He took care of himself. I was more or less content with my life, and he and his wife and all their children and grandchildren had an enviable relationship.

Shortly after my divorce, my brother and I met in San Diego when he had a meeting to attend. He had invited me, as we hadn't seen each other in several years. I had some airline points, so I went. It turned out that he had a room with a king size bed. No, nothing happened. We both slept in the bed, and at the reception I wore my black dress and we drank martinis and went to bed together and just slept.

And things didn't change much. Our mother got older and developed Alzheimer's disease. My brother and I continued in our career trajectories. Our sister lost her husband and that broke her heart as well. She was the one who looked after our mother.
One day I got a call from my brother. He was coming to the city I lived in, and wanted to meet up with me. I had a little house and invited him to stay.

The day came when I met him at the airport. He looked good; now he was 64 and I was 52. He told me I looked good as well, and I knew that I did. Between genes and attention to our health, both of us were in pretty good shape.

We went out to dinner that first night, and caught up on old times. When we got back to my house, we continued our conversation late into the night over wine.

The next day he went off to his conference and I went to work. We agreed to meet afterwards for supper.

As we were finishing up our desert, he turned to me and said, "Sis, I have to ask you something. Please don't reply immediately. Think about what I am going to say."

I was curious. What was the big deal? "Sure," I said.

"I'll be blunt. I'd like to sleep with you. I've wanted to since both of us were young. I've never not wanted to. And it has nothing to do with loving my wife, or anything else. I've never cheated. But the bottom line is that I love you, and I hate to think about going through life without being intimate. I know it seems wrong to you, but I have to be honest about how I feel."

I almost fell off my chair. I felt like I was about to faint. I was a committed Christian and as far as I knew, so was he. But I realized that I wondered what it would be like to sleep with him as well.

"I don't know, " I said. "It would change everything between us. I don't think so."

"OK," he said. "I had to ask, and if you don't want to, that's the end of it. Let's forget about it and talk about something else."

But there was no going back. How could there be? Things had changed forever.

When we went back to my house, I wasn't speaking to him. We both went to our rooms. I could not sleep. How dare he ask me this? My mind would not let me rest. And then I thought to myself, I've loved him all my life, and we aren't getting younger. How much longer could either of us hope to have good health? Would there ever be another opportunity? If we did this, what would happen? I was post-menopausal. I couldn't get pregnant. It didn't seem that there was a downside.

Finally I made up my mind. I took off all my clothes and threw on my robe. I went over to my brother's room and knocked softly on the door. "Come in" he said. And I did. I walked over to his bed and dropped my robe and crawled into bed with him. "I was thinking about things," I said. "And I'm here."

My brother kissed me on the lips for the first time in our lives, and held me close and stroked my breasts. I could feel myself awakening for the first time in years. He took off his shorts, and he and I both were naked. I kissed him and he entered me and we moved with what seemed to be a familiar, natural rhythm. We did it, and afterwards, we fell asleep in each other's arms.

The next day I didn't feel too bad at all. Apparently he didn't either, since despite our advanced ages, he seemed ready to go again, and I did as well, so we did it again. We talked a little about what had happened, and we both agreed that it seemed good; as long as we kept it a secret, there didn't seem to be a down side.

I still had a lot of qualms, though, and while on the natural level things seemed good, I worried about what this did to my spiritual quest. After all, what we did violated everything we had been taught in our Christian faith. But apparently my brother had been thinking about this longer than I had. "Look, Mar," he said, "The Ten Commandments forbid adultery; those commandments were given to the Jewish people. As you know, Abraham and Jacob both committed adultery by our standards, and yet God did not desert them. The same was true of King David, who had the commandments. Adultery has to do with the status of women in those days, the fact that women were possessions. To take another man's possession was wrong, and in the Ten Commandments, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's goods and thou shalt not covet his wife are on an equal footing. Notice also that in the Old Testament, adultery is a sin of men, primarily.

In the New Testament, we have a lot of conflicting information. St Paul's whole theology is that Jesus resurrection frees us from the law. And yet, he does put forth various moral issues. Jesus is the same way. He makes some statements about marriage, but he forgives the adulterous woman, as well as the Samaritan woman who was living with a man not her husband. He sees that these women are in the wrong, but he comes down harder on hypocrisy and neglect of the poor than he ever does on sexual issues. I think a lot of the moral principles written in the New Testament are really reactions to the surrounding culture, seen through the eyes of a Jewish heritage. This doesn't mean that they haven't got value, but the fundamental point made by Jesus and Paul is that Jesus' death and resurrection have paid for everything; they have released us from the law.

This doesn't mean that we shouldn't have general moral principles, and that moral principles should hold in the public square; but no one can deny that there are changes that take place. There was a time when divorce was considered a terrible thing by all Christians; and then things evolved, and whether you call it annulment or divorce, it doesn't get you kicked out of the Church anymore. Our attitude towards war has changed from a situation where if you went to war for the right reasons and got killed, you got right into heaven; and now among some Christian bodies, participating in war is forbidden. There was a time when a Pope wrote a bull condemning usury, which was nothing more than the lending of money at interest. That, by the way, is roundly condemned in the Old Testament as well. Then with further thinking and the passage of time, usury was still condemned but it was redefined, and I don't think any of us even give this any thought.

Finally, it is interesting that one of the greatest thinkers of the Christian faith, St Augustine (who, by the way, is claimed by Protestants as well as Catholics) did say, in a sort of summary of his theology, "Love, and do what you will." His point was that for a Christian, everything needed to be seen in terms of how it flowed from love. If I do something because of selfishness, I better watch out. If I do something because of love, it may be a holy act. If I kill myself because I am depressed and don't want to face the future, that is a selfish act. If I kill myself in the process of saving another's life, that is a holy act, because it flows from love.

The bottom line is that Christians are free; they are saved, as long as they believe in Jesus Christ, because only Jesus can save. The job of a Christian is to live so that the motives for all his or her actions stem from love; the purer the better. And that's an ideal we'll never completely reach.

But I think it applies to sex as well as every other part of life. And what you and I just did, given our age, our independence, the fact that neither of us acted out of selfishness – well, I may have a little, but I know I wanted to be intimate with you because I love you, not because I wanted to "conquer" you; and I know you gave yourself to me because you love me. So love was the motive behind the action, and what we did was a Holy act. I still love my wife, and perhaps I'll love her more now that I've made love with you. But think about the way we feel right now. I don't feel bad about what happened. I feel closer to you, and I don't feel that we've done anything evil. Sometimes feelings tell us the truth. Obviously, we can't go around telling other people about this, not because we are ashamed, but because most people would see this as me betraying my wife, or you being "loose", and the added complication of our relationship wouldn't help either. Sometimes discretion is necessary simply because we don't want to hurt people who don't see things the way we do.

I know one way to look at everything I've said is as a "justification". But I think Christianity is a radical religion, so much so that Jesus himself becomes intimate with us through the act of our Communion."

My brother was normally as silent as an Indian, and if you took him to a party, he would barely speak. Unless of course, he had something to say. So the uncharacteristic monologue which I have tried to reproduce above means that he really has been thinking about all of this. He also reminded me that some psychologists who study religion see distinct stages in one's religious development. The final stage, which few reach, is when outside rules and regulations no longer impact; the person has gotten to the point where he or she has internalized a relationship with the divine, and is in a sense "above" the law. Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Theresa come to mind. They had gotten to the point in life and spiritual development where they listened to the divine within, not to anything outside.

"I think I understand what you are saying," I told my brother. "It makes a lot of sense. And when you think about the issue of love being the guiding force behind our actions, if this had happened after my divorce, I would have been looking for comfort, and that would not be love. And if it had happened when we were both a lot younger, you might have been trying to seduce me for sexual fulfillment at a time when you and your wife were having all those problems.

"You know about that?" he replied?

"Yes, I do," I told him. I heard from one of your daughters that she remembers how your wife used to cry all the time for a period of their growing up. And then everything got better. I don't know more than this."

"You know," he said, "that more or less proves my point. That was a very difficult transition for us. Up to then, I saw her and my family as possessions, and whenever her real self seemed to emerge, it made me upset. I took her independence as a sign of rebellion, of not loving me. And I felt threatened by her attention to the kids rather than me. But the resolution of that difficulty was when I decided that my goal would be her happiness rather than my own, and when I set out to live our marriage that way, our problems began to disappear. I'm not trying to make myself a saint, here, but I have to say that whenever the two of us disagree, and we do, I remember that she is a person just like I am, and I love her, and want what is best for her."

I looked at my brother. He wasn't particularly handsome; he was getting bald. He had a little pot belly. He was very tall. He had good skin and not very good teeth. But I loved him. I loved him because he was my brother; I loved him because he was always there when I needed someone to talk to; and I loved him because he was a good man, good to his family, good to his wife, good to his patients and the people who worked for him. And our making love had not changed any of that. Now we were part of each other.

"I love you, brother," I told him. "Lets make the most of this time we have, and I'm willing to do it again."

And we did, and we have.
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Upload Date: 31/12/1969

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