A STRANGER IN PARADISE – PAPERBACK

In 1986 I agreed to let an emotionally distressed person wait in my cottage, which was occasionally used as a waiting room for my partner of the time’s busy General Medical Practice. The woman, with whom I was acquainted, had been taken from a train for behaving in a strange manner. She had removed her clothes and had thrown them out of the window, then locked herself in a toilet declaring she was undergoing a cleansing ritual and refused to come out, which, if you knew the state of UK public transport toilets, you would indeed think was most strange. Following a bizarre chain of events, this shivering woman was brought by police unexpectedly to the public waiting room of my Doctor partner’s surgery. After an initial assessment she was considered lucid enough to ask that, as she’d once met me, could she be with me until Tony, my partner could give her his full attention. She said she really liked me and felt safe with me. When I received the call asking me if this would be ok, being a people-pleaser of great magnitude, I of course said ‘yes’ and promptly cancelled my business appointments for that morning. Appointments that, by-the-way, only the day before I had told my mother were extremely important, when I’d insisted that I HAD to get back to the UK from an all too brief break in Spain. I had left my dear Mum in tears at Malaga airport begging me to stay as she felt something, somewhere was very wrong. In that moment of me saying ‘yes’ to the unexpected visitor, no one, not even the woman’s psychiatrist or family knew that she had recently taken herself off all medication for paranoid schizophrenia. Within minutes of her arrival chez moi, she helped herself to my largest carving knife and set about her mission of saving the world, in the name of Jesus, which apparently was dependant on my extermination.

An important aspect of the event I wish to share with you is that I think of myself as fortunate. Because something happened during the attack, which revealed to me the absolute perfection of life’s Grand Design. When the knife entered me, something exploded in my awareness – a part of me became detached from my body. I was on a trapeze, swinging amongst the most brilliant stars I had ever seen, suspended in a vast, black velvet night sky rocketing back and forth, through the heavens. The speed was exhilarating, the vision intoxicating, and the music soul-shattering. My entire being was exploding with the exhilaration of its new-found freedom, beyond the straitjacket rigidity of its earthly overcoat. Somewhere in the depths of sound there was the arrhythmic beating of a heart. Time did not exist. Nothing mattered. I knew some tiny part of me was being stabbed, and it did not seem to be of any consequence…. I felt so incredibly alive. Somewhere within this ethereal version of me, calm, loving, soothing, beautiful thoughts floated into my awareness.

I was observing the mayhem of a fight-to-the–death with total understanding and even a sense of humour. As I swung in and out of body consciousness I remember shouting out that I loved my assailant, which, given the circumstances, was as much of a surprise to me as it was to her. Yes, at times you are right, the physical pain was excruciating but a phenomenal strength and focus arose within me, and I received very specific instructions from a loving being I named Veritas that guided me out of the cottage. I had a long crawl to the road, but was followed by my assailant who continued to plunge the carving knife into my back. As I struggled to the gate crying for help I saw passers-by running away, not that I blamed them, for in their shoes I probably would have done the same. Eventually a courageous young man managed to disarm my attacker, as she was in the process of hacking off my head.

I was given up as dead by the first police officers arriving at the crime scene but I was aware of everything, including the unhelpful onlookers who were discussing the fact that the ambulance service just happened to be on strike that day and the businessman who wouldn’t cover me with his jacket because he didn’t want it ‘ruined’ by my blood. I remember thinking, 'Look at it this way kid, from here things can only get better!’ Lying in that cold wet driveway in the south of England I was totally aware of everything going on around me. From a place beyond physical form I experienced profound feelings of compassion, forgiveness and love towards my psychotic attacker and the unhelpful 'accident-onlookers'. The exsanguinated pile of flesh and bones slumped in the drive seemed to have little to do with who I was. I cheered inwardly when my partner Tony arrived on the scene. Cutting through the indecision and fear surrounding me he acted with immense courage and certainty. My subsequent survival from the multiple stab wounds, of which five were within a millimeter of killing me, was considered to be something of a miracle. I was, and am still, overwhelmed with gratitude for the courage and strength of those who fought to save my life. There was serendipity in the way my rescue unfolded and I knew I would live. My loved ones however were not so certain.

In the Intensive Care Unit the main topics of conversation over my mummified body were blame and retribution. Tony became the scapegoat as he had agreed to allow the woman patient to wait in our cottage. From my perspective the sequence of events that had led to the arrival of this deranged woman in our kitchen was so bizarre I knew there was no one to blame. I felt certain the attack was part of a much bigger picture, and I believed on some level that it simply had had to happen and was not the tragic accident most people thought. I was determined to understand, and a quest for truth began to unfold within me.

My rapid recovery from the main stab wounds was considered something of a miracle but there were difficult repercussions in almost every other aspect of my life. My mother, having been a great beauty in her day, remained inconsolable, especially because I had been stabbed in the face and neck. She had a breakdown and turned to alcohol to numb her pain. My stepfather was furious that his imminent retirement plans were ruined, and his wife became embittered at his selfishness and lack of compassion. He then blamed me and ‘my injuries’ for her ensuing lack of sweetness that manifested as full blown diabetes, and in a misguided effort to protect her from further upset he did everything in his power to banish me from their lives. After my mother’s tragic and premature death, he asked for my forgiveness. I am neither christened nor religious but Christ’s words about ‘Father forgive them for they know not what they do’ is the closest way to describe how I felt. This expansive feeling of understanding and compassion arose from deep within me and even allowed me to take a call from my assailant’s sister, only days after the attack. She wanted me to know her psychotic sister was desperately sorry and asked my forgiveness. As I blamed no one, I felt and still feel, there was nothing to forgive, but there was still a lot for me to learn and understand. I hadn’t become evangelical, walking around with a beatific smile on my face but I went in search of teachings and people who had touched on the same loving and compassionate perspective. I wanted to know if it was possible to reach this place of peace without some horrific trauma.

I wrote ‘A Stranger in Paradise’ to offer back my insights and understandings of the entire experience. The book attracted worldwide media attention and has been translated into seven languages to date and distributed on all continents. It made people cry as much with laughter as outrage and I hope it explained how and why I found a deeper meaning to life. I refused to be pigeonholed as a grim faced victim, although this was the angle many photographers and journalists wanted. The unprecedented coverage sparked positive debate and discussion and I was invited to share my story with thousands of people around the world.

I have accepted what happened to me, not with a victim attitude but more an alive, dynamic excited way of a spiritual warrior determined to understand every level of the experience. So why did it happen to me? The answer is complex, but one thing I do know for sure. My suffering has enabled me to access areas that I would never have been permitted to enter, to speak with an authority I would never have achieved through intellect alone, to meet and share stories with international audiences and to instigate changes that can improve human rights. I now understand so much more about the journey into the depths of my own heart and the remarkable healing power these inner revelations bestow upon us. Above all, I am learning to love with a capacity that is vast, unconditional and ever deepening – and when I think about that, I sometimes just feel that I want to fall to my knees and weep in gratitude.

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