Peter, Maria, and Me

Fullan Nov BlogBy Rebecca Fullan

When we got to pick a saint to dress up as for All Saints’ Day at church, of course I picked Peter. I used some sort of nondescript big dress of my mom’s for a robe, and went out and bought a fake beard. I planned to take a fishing rod and tie a little doll to it, but I imagined it so vividly that I can’t tell you if I managed it or not.

I don’t remember when Peter became my friend, but I decided he was going to be my confirmation saint many years before the event and never wavered. It was me and Peter, Peter and me. I loved his impetuosity, his enthusiasm. He was so excited about everything, always rushing into stuff and then freaking out—running out over the water and then half-sinking, not wanting Jesus to wash his feet and then wanting Jesus to wash him everywhere, and, more poignantly, following Jesus during his trial, and then denying him in panic. And Peter at Easter! When he hears Mary Magdalene’s tale of the empty tomb, he runs with John to the tomb. He’s not a fast runner, Peter, and he gets there second. But John is still hanging out at the entrance, and Peter just charges on in. I was a lot like Peter, even though I tended to weigh even the smallest decisions as though I were navigating a mapless minefield. But I had that crazy love desire to give myself totally to things (Jesus in particular), to get washed all over and try all the cool miracle tricks. And when my back is to the wall, I still lie before I think. I still deny. I have always been a slow runner, so I appreciate that Peter arrives second at the tomb, but goes right in. That’s my kind of adventure, you know? I wanna get there at my own pace… and then go as far and deep in as I can.

Another year, for All Saints’ Day, they gave out saints’ stories for kids to read up at the podium. I didn’t get Peter then. I got Maria Goretti. She was this little Italian girl who was killed by a would-be rapist in 1902. There was this weird line in the story about her shouting, “It is a sin! You will go to hell!” She unsettled the heck out of me. I was unnerved by her experience, unnerved by her sainthood, and dramatically opposed to the idea of speaking this threat of hell. It seemed… weird. Such a statement, at such a time. I didn’t know how to relate to Maria. I couldn’t imagine standing between rape and death. I truly couldn’t imagine preferring death to rape, as the stories said she did. And I was angry to hear this calm version, where the choice was all wrapped in disembodied judgment, where the “choice” was called such a thing at all.

But there she was, on my paper. And I had to go up to the microphone and read about her. I spent a lot of time with Maria beforehand. I crossed out the bits about hell and just let her sound frightened. I tried to show the horror of what had happened beyond the question of sexual purity as something that should be preserved. I held on to her forgiveness of her attacker. To that, I held on tight.

I got up, when my turn came. I read my edited version. I did feel some closeness to this discomfiting saint as I spoke of her, but never enough to walk with her as I walked with Peter.

Two years ago now, a man broke into my apartment in the middle of the night. I had heard noises, and walked through the house turning on lights. I hovered in the living room, holding a copy of Amy Tan’s Saving Fish from Drowning across my chest like a shield. I saw his shadow come across the living room threshold, and he took my arm and walked me backward to the couch. I do not know how to describe this fear to you. I thought, I am going to be raped, and my best friend is there in the next room, and I cannot let her know. He said, “I just want to touch you,” and he put his hand on my breast. The touch opened my throat and I screamed, and screamed, and screamed, until he ran from the house, and Rachel ran out of her room to find me.

I didn’t think of saints at the time. I didn’t think of saints until I was writing this to you. But you see them now, don’t you? Peter. And Maria, too.

I think this is why they call it All Saints’ Day. It’s about the saints that make us glad and the saints that make us mad. The ones we believe in and the ones we don’t believe in. All Saints’ Day holds them all, and wraps us up with them, in the horrifying, mysterious life we share. And it’s the sharing that matters, and weaves the holiness in with the beauty and the terror.

St. Peter, pray for us. St. Maria Goretti, pray for us. All you holy men and women (known and unknown, seen and unseen, canonized and condemned), pray for us.

Rebecca Lynne Peter Fullan is reassured by living on the 3rd floor with big New York City locks on the door. She enjoys fishing for people. She believes in the communion of saints and the forgiveness of sins, among other things, and has already chosen her new name in the unlikely event of her election to the papacy.

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4 Responses

  1. Oh, my gosh, Rebecca.
    The essay is both beautiful and frightening. I think we all develop different relationships with different saints, in an almost inexplicable way, but maybe there’s a time for all of them? I went to a Catholic elementary school, and I have always loved Saint Francis. The stories were lovely, and the statues always depicted him frolicking with birds. He was my kind of guy. At the same school was a statue of Saint Lucy, who I felt was my arch nemesis from day one. Her eye sockets were empty and bleeding, and the statue and story were terrifying to me. (Even today, as a twenty-four-year-old woman, I’m still a little freaked out by eyeballs. I can’t even bring myself to wear contacts.) Someday I’ll reconcile with Saint Lucy, and I’m so glad that St. Maria and St. Peter and whomever else were with you that night.

  2. Thanks, Renee! I really appreciated and enjoyed your kind words. Your relationship with St. Lucy made me think of a dentist (and deacon) friend for whom my mom once worked, who had a similarly uneasy relationship with St. Apollonia, who is the patron saint of dentists by virtue of having had all her teeth pulled out in the course of her martyrdom… he was not delighted about this.

  3. Dearest Rebecca Lynne Peter:Thank you for these insights. As you know, many of the stories of the saints’ lives were available to me in the Catholics school library of my youth. Many of the martyrs’ stories were very scary to me including St. Maria Goretti’s. Probably especially St. Maria’s, as she was a child as I was.Your words help me to reconcile it all. May St. Peter and St. Maria and and God be with you always.May you be covered with and enfolded in the white, light of Jesus and may you be safe and protected as you were that night. I love you forever!

  4. Rebecca,

    You bring light where there is darkness and courage to all you do.

    Your humanity will touch all who read these entries and bless your essence within.

    Moistness comes to my eyes as I read of your incident. It goes against my grain to see someone in my world suffering at the hands of another. Sometimes I can be a voice of reason. In its initial telling, I was a voice of revenge.

    No one should hold command over another without their agreement. Fear should not be a weapon but a cleansing act which leads us to the right path.

    In a less hyperbolic note, I am praying that what goes around comes around for this “person” who assaulted you.

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