It was a Saturday night early on in my semester abroad in a European city. I had stayed out very late enjoying the company of new friends. My roommates were doing other things that night, and it didn’t hit me until I reached my tram stop that I’d have to walk back to our apartment alone. I quickened my pace along the several dark, empty blocks and stopped in a lighted phone booth outside the apartment building to fish out my keys.
As I fumbled in my purse, my back to the phone booth entrance, a voice behind me suddenly murmured “Hello.”
I turned to find a large man blocking the doorway. I could tell by the way he was looking at me that he wasn’t there to be friendly. My stomach sank in fear as I said something about needing to leave. He didn’t budge. Instead, he tried to kiss me and reached for the waistband of my jeans. I was able to move backward and block his hands, but I knew I couldn’t keep him away for long.
In the next moment, though, my fear was completely replaced by a feeling of calm, absolute strength. A clear message filled my thought, almost as though it had been spoken aloud: “This is not your story.” It was an immediate, tangible realization that I wasn’t actually alone. God, who I understand as the ever-present, entirely good and loving, divine Father-Mother of us all, was right there, keeping me safe.
The man was still inches away from me, but it was almost as if I could see above the situation. Simple instructions came into focus: The next time he reached for me, I would duck and run out under his outstretched arms. He came toward me, and I was able to dive out of the booth, ending up on the sidewalk. I got up quickly, and when I looked around, the man was gone.
Slightly shaken but feeling extremely grateful, I let myself into my apartment and got ready for bed. The message I’d received in the phone booth – “This is not your story” – was a helpful guide in how to think about what had just happened. I would not dwell on the frightening moments or explore the “what ifs” of what might have occurred. Instead, I could move forward with the true story, the spiritual fact that remains unchanged regardless of the situation: that God, good, is the reliable source of our safety, and no one can ever really be outside of Her care.
It occurred to me that another important aspect of moving forward was seeing that man differently. While his actions would label him as a victimizer, my study of Christian Science had taught me that this was not his story either. The true, spiritual identity of each individual is God’s spiritual image and likeness – the image and likeness of pure good. So, just as God did not create a vulnerable woman, He could not create an abusive man. While what that man had tried to do certainly wasn’t right, I felt that I needed to mentally place him under God’s care too. Everyone has the innate ability to wake up to his or her real identity, free from any violent or impure impulses.
These prayers brought me enough peace to fall asleep that night and to continue my wonderful semester abroad with complete confidence and freedom. I did make sure to not be out alone late at night again, but I also brought an increased understanding of God’s protecting care to all my activities.
This experience has been an important support for me in the years since, as I’ve lived in a city, taken public transportation, traveled, and interacted with men free from any feeling of trauma. It’s also given me a way to respond when I hear accounts of harassment or assault: I pray that all women and men can know and feel that “this is not your story.” The reality, always, is that our spiritual identities are our real identities – untarnished, protected, loving, and loved – and that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalms 46:1).