Eden at the Indy 500

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I managed to live in Indiana for forty years before visiting the Indianapolis 500. A friend offered my husband and me tickets on our anniversary weekend, which also happened to be the 100th anniversary of the race itself, an event that was expected to draw half a million people.

“Oh, why do you want to do that?” My family has used this rhetorical question for many years to discourage wanton desires.

We have shared a long-standing prejudice against the race, because it is a place people go to sit in the sun too long while consuming too much alcohol, and my family largely consists of fair-skinned people who do not drink. We have also casually directed this disdain at amusement parks, cruises and the state of Florida for the same reasons.

My dark secret is that I sort of like drinking in the sun. Like nearly all the forbidden things I’ve tried, it feels quite good, until it’s horrible. [Read more…]

A Letter To My Sister

SistersEve, my sister
The one who took the fall
Eve, my sister
Mother of us all
Lift up your head
Don’t hide your blushing face
The promised One
Is finally on His way
—Mary Consoles Eve, “Rain for Roots”

You have been my first companion in a lifetime of laughter, quarrels, and confidences. Without you, the oldest of three girls, I would never know what it means to be a little sister, to race down to the end of cul-de-sacs on bikes, to fight kicking and screaming while our mother wept on the stairs.

I would never know what it was like to be defended with more vehemence than we ever directed at each other.

When you were two and I was a newborn, you introduced me to a visitor, walking him up the stairs to my room. “This is John Chester,” you told him, pointing to my crib. My parents thought it was hilarious, you mixing up my difficult name, Christiana. But I think you were disappointed that I wasn’t a boy so you gave me a name, pretending I was one anyway.

I know I’ve disappointed you since then. But you’ve still continued to name me.

I remember the shock on my classmate’s face in junior high, whose crime was talking behind my back; her punishment was an earful from you. I felt just a little sorry for her but also incredulous that you would fight for me. At that moment, you named, to everyone else listening that I was your sister.

I didn’t know much of life without that security. It was a heart lesson about you: that you would constantly surprise me, that you were fiercely loyal to me, even when I didn’t deserve it.

Years later we lived only a few miles apart. I, the single and newly graduated writer living alone in a creepy apartment complex, scared from staying up too late reading the latest Harry Potter. You, the young mother of four small children, up at all hours of the night with kids. And still you rushed to my aid when I called you, terrified, alone, sick in the middle of the night.

You spent the night on my couch.

Now, we are thousands of miles apart and, now I am the mother to my own small children, while your oldest is graduating high school.

When our little sister telephones from Texas, I can hear something in her voice. Her first words display the intricate weaving of a lifetime of shared familial meaning. At first, I think she is going to tell me that our grandmother has died, or that there’s something urgent with our father who was diagnosed with cancer a year ago.

But this time, it’s you.

“She’s in the ER,” our little sister says about you. “But it’s probably just a panic attack.”

Panic is such a mild word for the overpowering sense of falling into darkness and fear that comes with such an episode, as if it could be washed away with a cup of tea and a warm bubble bath.

We are all, three sisters, intimate with such darkness. And you are saddled with the burden of being the oldest daughter in this family who is struggling through the complexities of cancer, dementia, and a shrinking nest.

But this is something worse. At midnight, another call comes from our mother. You haven’t had a panic attack. You’ve had a stroke.

A stroke. At forty years old.

Suddenly the litany of terrible things we only imagined could happen, finally has; the things we have all feared in those darkest moments of panic—pain, sickness, and death—are all possible.

And I am far away, only able to imagine how you feel, how you look in that hospital bed. You can’t use your hand, and even though your speech is slowly returning, the whole right side of your body is numb. I get the updates via text; your friends come to cheer you up. Your youth pastor shares your progress with your listening prayerful world.

Even though I’m grateful so many people are surrounding you, I want it to be me sitting beside you, fighting for you the same way you did for me, staying up late by your bedside.

Maybe you are too gracious and too busy healing to be disappointed with me. But I can’t help feeling like I’ve failed you as I sit thousands of miles away, my prayers, tears, and words the only things I have to offer.

You’ve always taken the fall for your little sisters, taking the brunt of some of the early pain of learning and struggle. As my own oldest daughter lives out an internal urge that I will never understand, this urge to manage her siblings and even, at times, her parents, I see how much pressure you have always lived under.

You truly are the “mother of us all.” From you, I learned about sex, how to fight in marriage, how to mother strong children, how to love with a vehement love.

I can only imagine, sister, your fear that this stroke will unmake you; that your hands and body are moving without your consent. I have nothing to offer you, save to remind you that nothing can really unmake you, except the fear itself. Nothing can un-create what God has knit together in that valiant heart of yours.

Let me be a witness; remember, I have seen you fight. I have felt your fierceness when we were on the floor kicking each other as children. I have seen you fight for me, for our sisterly bond. I feel your love even more now that I’m a mother, knowing that you sacrificed your sleep for your scared, lonely sister.

I have seen your strength mature you into a beautiful lioness.

I know, too, that you are good at renaming. Now, use that strength and rename this cursed stroke:

My sister, the one who took the fall
Lift up your head…
He comes to make his blessings flow
As far and wide as the curse is found
He comes to make His blessings flow

 

Image above is by Laura Betancourt, licensed by Creative Commons.

Christiana N. Peterson grew up in Texas and received a PhD in Creative Writing from St. Andrews University in Scotland. She has published pieces on death, fairytales, and farm life at Art House America, her.meneutics, and cordella. She lives with her family in the rural Midwest where she is learning the joys and challenges of church and farm life. You can find more of Christiana’s writing on her blog at christiananpeterson.com and follow her on twitter.

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Flying into Fear, Part 2

Read Part 1 here

What a strange airline it was!

My fear of flying made every flight I took an exhausting process of dread, panic, relief, and guilt. Mental health issues usually require a variety of strategies to overcome. Healing is more art than science, a process of trial and error with fingerprint individuality. For me, therapy on its own wasn’t cutting it.

I’d heard more than once that information doesn’t help the phobic person, that irrationality can’t be countered with facts. That was not the case with me. I sought out information to set my brain grooves aright. I read Patrick Smith’s book Ask the Pilot: Everything You Need to Know About Air Travel, which communicates the science and safety of flight with frankness and humor.

I also started to spend time on the SOAR Fear of Flying forum online, where Captain Tom Bunn puts all manner of fearful flyers at ease with data about planes and the human brain. (In short, planes are a lot more predictable and reliable.) [Read more…]

Flying into Fear, Part 1

PlaneYears ago, I worked with a woman who sold her car after a spider’s nest fell on the roof. Although her husband seemed to have cleared all spiders from the interior, she could not bring herself to open that door. Ever again.

I knew another woman who took anti-anxiety meds regularly on the off chance she’d encounter a snake at her Midwestern office job.

And how can we forget public speaking, all those students who stay home from school on presentation day beset with digestive difficulties as they dread the encroaching next?

Of course, these fears have always seemed irrational to me. By definition, phobias are irrational. Spiders and snakes rarely kill anyone. And public speaking? What’s the worst that can happen? [Read more…]

Peace, My Animal

Mice

“Benedic, anima mea,” I say each night to the mouse that lives behind my desk. I know what the phrase speaks of a soul, but “animal” often has more meaning to me than “soul.” Occasionally I quote Ada Limón’s poem “The Long Ride”: How good it is to love live things, even when what they’ve done is terrible. Her poem refers to a horse that killed its rider when spooked; my benediction forgives the droppings I find next to my paints each morning. In my more ill-tempered moments, I kick the desk before going to bed and hiss, “I’m an island of mercy, mouse.”

Because I am. It’s not that I can’t kill an animal. It’s that I overthink, gather information, and turn it over in my mind, especially when that information unsettles or intrudes. The consequence of so much information seeking is that I hold strange things in my heart, fall in love whenever I’m frightened.

I’m not frightened of the mouse. Given the right opportunity, I’d be willing to kiss its little ears right off. But I’m troubled by its intrusion into my space, by the fact that a living being is running about while I sleep. The mouse is one more thing in a long list of things I can control, one more thing after which I have to clean up. [Read more…]


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