This morning I was reading a New Yorker piece about the new Pope, and it mentioned liberation theology (how John Paul II and then Cardinal Ratzinger squashed it, actually). The term made me think of my older brother (10 years my senior), who explained the term to me more than a decade ago. Being fatherless, my brother was the first man whose character and intellect I thought were without equal. It's fair to say, looking back on my middle-school self, that I idolized him. Handsome and brilliant, my brother was also dedicated to social justice and Christian outreach. My friends thought he was "fine," and I felt lucky to have such an amazing big brother.
Looking at my own children, I wonder if such feelings are possible for sisters only three years younger than their brothers. My devotion to my brother was mostly due to my father's death... It was easy -- natural, even -- for me to admire my brother so much because my life lacked a central male figure. My former stepfather, while a wonderful conversationalist, was a strict authoritarian and had a troubled/troubling marriage with my mother. I respected him growing up, but he frightened me. My brother, on the other hand, made me feel safe and protected. He took an interest in my intellectual and spiritual growth. He talked to me and not down to me. He never infantilized me, the way my eldest brother did (and still does!). How many much younger siblings can say the same?
At the same time, I remember how hurt I was when I realized my brother was fallible. Something he did -- inconsequential now but devastating at the time -- disappointed me so much while I was in college that it shook something inside me. I was forced to discover that he was human. Brothers (even then ones you deem perfect) can hurt their sisters. It's a fact of life that had basically eluded me until then.
I look at the way the Schmoop cares for and delights the Schmoopette. No one can make her laugh so heartily, but also no one can make her cry with frustrated despair. He loves her, but he also unintentionally harms her (like when he put her heavy blanket on top of her face). This is the nature of close relationships between brothers and sisters at its essence... One moment you are each other's best friends -- the only other people on earth who share your genetic material in the same way. The next moment, they bother you beyond belief.
I no longer put my brother on such a high pedestal. But he is still brilliant and amazing, just not perfect. I hope one day D thinks the same of E.