Must widow choose pension over passion?

I’m a senior citizen who won’t miss your column!

A debate has been going on (among) Christian friends who are in their 70s. We are the forgotten group. Even when Dr. Oz gives advice on his show it seems to end at 50 or 60. The world tells us we are younger than our years but treats us like we are about to die.

I’m widowed, 75, lived 50 years with the one and only man in my life. I miss the companionship, not the sex, but the question of the day is …

If and when it would ever come to sex, if you ever found yourself a widow at 75 and still had your juices flowing, would you be tempted to (think), "I truly think I love this person. I feel 20 years younger when I’m with him. It’s been studied and found that intimacy improves both our health, extends our life, yet … I would lose my pension if we ever married (and my partner in life worked hard for me to be protected by that pension)."

Is it really black and white with God?

At 75, procreating days are over. I was faithful during 50 years of marriage. I know intimacy bonds in ways that can bring a lot of pain if it’s abused. At 75, promiscuity is not on the books for me.

I have always wanted a professional slant on the dilemma that we seniors have. Is sex wrong once we are heading for the exit door in life?

Widowhood has made me less judgmental with our young people for hard decisions they have to wrestle.

— N.N., Las Vegas

 

I take it as given that one of the signs I might be growing up is that I am steadily relinquishing my grip on "black and white." That is, as I get older, fewer and fewer things are "black and white."

Life, in its very nature, contains a delicious — if disquieting — ambiguity. This ambiguity requires our radical responsibility, our rigorous participation. It requires us to think. And, when the issues turn to values and morality, it requires our participation in the work of ethics. For practicing religious people (in your case, a Christian), it’s called "the task of moral theology."

Now, this is not to say my world contains no "black and white." As I get older, there remain a few things more "black and white" than ever. For example, while there are very few absolute rights, I would say without ambiguity that human beings have the absolute right not to be raped, not to be murdered, that children have the absolute right not to be degraded, disrespected, exploited and abused. Etc.

A few things are clearer to me than ever. And absolute. But the List of Ambiguities gets longer for me every day. I take that as a good thing.

The moment The State sticks its nose into a Christian theology of marriage, dilemmas arise.

Ambiguities. Your wedding license is held hostage by The State. You can have one if you’re willing to abide by laws that change your tax rates and sometimes threaten to erode your estate. You would not be the first senior who, while valuing marriage, was morally hamstrung by laws that require economic suicide as the qualifier for matrimony.

One choice is to tell The State to go hang. Simply date or cohabitate. But many seniors, Christian and otherwise, who cherish and value the marriage symbol as the necessary "container" for great love and great sex, take the marriage symbol into their own hands. There are (slightly renegade) pastors and priests out there who will bless or solemnize these relationships sans an actual wedding license. For the record, I presided over one or two of these in my priestly career — one as the groom lay in a hospice bed.

Do you remember the movie "Cold Mountain," two people in love, two people hot for each other, post-Civil War, abject poverty in a devastated, depopulated land. Not a church or a cleric in sight, and no promise of one in the near future. They decide to borrow a page from the ingenuity of former slaves, who created their own religious ceremonies in the absence of being allowed to participate in white religion. Each says, "I marry you, I marry you, I marry you."

And then they have a joyous roll in the hay.

How could this be wrong?

Originally published in View News, Oct. 19, 2010.

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