In 1986 Julie Chimes agreed to let an emotionally distressed acquaintance wait in her cottage until her busy doctor boyfriend was able to make the time to get home in order to assess his patient. No one, not even the woman’s psychiatrist or family, knew that she had recently taken herself off all medication for paranoid schizophrenia. Helping herself to a carving knife, she then set about attacking Julie in a mission to save the world in the name of Jesus.
I think of myself as fortunate because I have never felt a victim. When the knife entered me, something exploded in my awareness and a part of me became detached from my body, calmly observing the mayhem with total understanding and even a sense of humour. I can remember shouting out that I loved my assailant, which, given the circumstances was as much of a surprise to me as was being stabbed.
The physical pain was excruciating but a phenomenal strength and focus arose within me, which guided me out of the cottage. Eventually a courageous passer-by managed to disarm my attacker, as she was trying to hack off my head. When the Police eventually arrived they thought I was dead, but I was aware of everything, including the unhelpful onlookers who were discussing the ambulance strike, and the businessman who wouldn’t cover me with his jacket because he didn’t want it “ruined” by my blood. The exsanguinated pile of flesh and bones slumped in the drive seemed to have little to do with who I was. I cheered when my partner Tony arrived on the scene. His courage and certainty pulled me back. There was serendipity in the way my rescue unfolded and I knew I would live. My loved ones were not so certain.
The main topics of conversation over my mummified body were blame and retribution. Tony became the scapegoat as he had sent the woman patient to our cottage. From my perspective, the sequence of events that had led up to her arrival in our kitchen were so bizarre I knew there was no one to blame. I felt certain the attack was part of a much bigger picture. I believed on some level that it had had to happen and that it was not the tragic accident that most people thought. I was determined to understand and a quest for truth began to unfold within me.
My rapid recovery from the five main stab wounds was considered something of a miracle but there were difficult repercussions in every aspect of my life. My mother, having lost her brother tragically, remained inconsolable and had a breakdown. My stepfather blamed “my injuries” for her ensuing illness and in a misguided effort to protect her from further upset he banished me from their lives. After her premature death he asked for my forgiveness. I am not religious but Christ’s words, “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 even allowed me to take a call from my assailant’s sister, who wanted me to know her sister was desperately sorry and asked my forgiveness. As I blamed no one, 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 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 because it made people cry as much with laughter as outrage and it explained how I was able to forgive.
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 learnt that this inner place of forgiveness and peace is available to everyone, everywhere, and in any circumstance. I now know when there is understanding there can be compassion. When compassion arises there can be forgiveness. Where there is forgiveness there is peace.