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in Botswana, March-April 2007
By Father Patricio de los Reyes SVD
Father de los Reyes, from Cebu, is SVD Provincial in Botswana-Zambia-Zimbabwe and had an article here in March-April last year. Here he describes a horrific life-threatening attack that occurred before we published it. We were able to report at the time that he was recovering well. But such an experience leaves scars, particularly emotional ones.
It’s been difficult to write about what happened to me the night of 18 November 2005 at the SVD house in Francistown, Botswana. Recalling it when it was still fresh made me utterly depressed, though I tried to tell people the significant elements of the story. I know in my heart that telling it will help me heal. I realize also that unburdening myself isn’t easy. Writing in detail gives me the feeling that I’m dying. It makes me groggy and I can’t stop crying. But I think I must tell the story, at least, for my own sake.
It was 10:45pm and I’d just finished watching the movie Troy. I said goodnight to everybody and headed for my room but then realized that the gate to the compound was still wide open. So, I opened the front door and walked toward the gate to close it. It was dark and warm outside. My pet dog, Tootsy, was barking, which I took for granted although I said to her, ‘What are you barking at?’ while looking in the direction she was facing. I saw two African faces, one partly hidden in the darkness, the other face clear. Without warning, I felt a blow on my head, as sudden as lightning. The thud sounded like that of an iron tube. I felt weak and fell to the ground. These people were trying to hurt and even kill me! As I fell, I called out, ‘Lord, help me.’
I didn’t lose consciousness and saw the lower body of the one hitting me. I thought I could defend myself by kicking his crotch. I raised my leg, putting my weight on my left arm only to realize that it was injured. I fell back. The man continued hitting me on the head. I remained conscious, but still can’t understand how I managed to get up and run back to the house. As I ran, I shouted to my companion, ‘Paul, they’re killing me.’ Father Paul Siju is a young Indian SVD who studied in the Philippines as a priest. I was aware that I closed the door and tried to lock it, but my right hand seemed weak. Later on, in the hospital, I discovered that my forefinger had been almost severed from my hand.
I became aware of Paul embracing me to make me steady and helping me sit on the floor. I told him I was cold and he wrapped me in blankets while I asked him if he was all right. He said he was and that I was injured. Then I became totally aware of what happened to me. Paul said he’d already called up other SVDs and that our other companion, Brother Charles Ashun, a Ghanaian, who was outside at the time, was already coming and they were going to bring me to the hospital. I felt I was becoming weaker but tried to breathe more air. I knew I wasn’t dying for God had helped me. I felt drowsy but Paul shook me gently and told me not to sleep.
I learned later that we reached the hospital within ten minutes and that the medical personnel helped me immediately. I became aware of people doing something with my head. I said I was thirsty. Somebody told me I shouldn’t drink water. So I asked, ‘How about beer?’ I heard them laugh. ‘Good’, I said to myself, ‘people shouldn’t panic.’ I knew everything would be fine.
At the edge
I felt so cold and there was only darkness. Everything stopped as though I had totally ceased to exist. Both my conscious and sub-conscious minds were quiet. Not even a dream.
Then there was the warm feeling of security, of being loved. I was enveloped in peace, as if a white light was encapsulating me, protecting me. There were no shadows. It was a life-giving solitude. But I wasn’t alone. Someone was watching over me, embracing me lovingly as it were, as if I was again in my mother’s womb, warm, safe and cared for, with no memories bothering my mind. I was totally gone from this world.
I had seven fractures in my skull. As I was being brought to the hospital, my brain fluids were already starting to ooze through the seven leaks created by the weapon the man had hit me with. ‘Lucky’ seven! I also had five blood clots in my brain. They’re all gone now, dissolved, except for the haunting memory. My left arm was badly injured, the elbow 85 percent broken and the two bones in the lower arm separated from those in the upper arm. My orthopedic surgeon was a miracle maker. He put everything back together. May God bless his hands.
I woke up, my eyes still heavy and went back to sleep. I heard people calling my name. But I was still tired and weak. I couldn’t talk because of the tubes inserted into my mouth and nose. I moved my left hand to tell them, ‘I’m here’. I heard someone say, ‘He’s with us now’. I thought, ‘I must have been gone for quite some time’. I slept again. I was ‘lost to the world’ for four days.
I woke up again, opening my eyes weakly. Someone spoke. Someone else uttered a prayer and words of concern and consolation. Everybody was praying for my speedy recovery. ‘I must have been injured badly’, I thought. ‘Yes, I remember that someone wanted to kill me. But I wasn’t dead. I’ve survived. The Lord heard my call and helped me survive’. I thought of the man, still not apprehended. I could see his face clearly in my mind. I thought, ‘I won’t let what happened to me pull me down. I’ll get up and live my life again’.
Angry? No. But I felt some guilt, though. Resentful too that I hadn’t paid attention to Tootsy barking fiercely, warning me that something was wrong. But I didn’t listen. Too late - but not too late to live again.
I thought often of the man as a lay quietly on my hospital bed. Even today, his face is still fresh in my memory. I thought I must forgive him in order to be healed and to stay alive. In spite of forgiving him, in spite of the help I obtained to turn this negative event into a positive and beneficial experience, my heart still bleeds and I can’t help but cry every time I remember it. I continue to forgive the man from my heart, not for his sake but for my own.
It’s unfair. There seems to be no justice one can reach in this kind of crime. Every time I see the scars on my head I’m reminded of how unfair things can be; but I must forgive. Because of the injury to my left brain, my right arm and hand stay limp at times. I think of how unjust in things can be in this world. I want justice because my heart has been scarred deeply; but I must forgive. I have become suspicious of any African male and every African male becomes the culprit; but I must forgive. I have lost my trust in any African man because one of them betrayed my trust, but I must be realistic and I need to forgive. I must forgive my attacker, not for his sake but for mine.
I’m not yet healed completely, but I thank God I’m alive. People say that God willed it. I mean, that I should still be alive. Maybe God willed it too that I should get hurt, but I’m not so sure. I don’t know if God has given me another life because of another plan for me. And if God has, I don’t have a clue what it is and what it will be. But I’m deeply grateful to God for the new life. What I’m very sure of at the moment is that God wants me to live my life fully with a pure intention and to give this life to serve others. How? I’m not clear yet. I believe God will make it clear to me in time.
Living a second life
Another thing I’m sure of is that God allowed me to stand at death’s door so that I may not fear death anymore, for whatever God wants me to do may require me to face death several times. My new life was given as a gift and I’m sure God wants me to offer it for something that will be life-giving too. I know, however, and feel deeply that God wants me to do more to make my life more significant – FOR GOD’S SAKE.
I still continue to discern God’s will for me this time. Please, help me pray that I may discern well and understand the significance of all that has happened.
You may write Father de los Reyes at: SVD Provincial House, PO Box 209, FRANCISTOWN BOTSWANA
The general email address there is firstname.lastname@example.org