I too found this scenario scarcely credible until I remembered an incident from about forty years ago. I was sharing a flat at the time with a nurse. On the night in question she was on night duty. I was alone in the flat. At some point during the night I woke up, or rather I was awakened – by noises in the flat. Not loud noises, not the kind of noises made by someone who had a right to be there, but the slight, intermittent sounds of someone furtively creeping around. I lay paralysed with terror, my mind as if sprung into a pre-programmed defensive activity: I prayed. Not the kind of prayer in which you enter into a one-sided conversation, expressing your fears, asking for help, but the rote-learned verse of the Our Father. Silently I gabbled in my head, over and over, ‘Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name....’ As soon as I got to the end I started again, faster and more frenzied. There was nothing in my head but fear and the words of the Our Father.
This may seem a natural reaction but anyone who has read other posts on this blog will know that prayer is the very last thing that might be expected from me, no matter what the circumstances. The reason I am writing about it now is to demonstrate the extent to which life-threatening incidents, whether real or imagined, can extinguish all rational thought and trigger primal defence mechanisms.
As for the noises that night, they soon settled into the kind of pattern you might expect from someone going about their regular business – coughing, toilet flushing and so on – and I came round to thinking that my flat mate must have come home early for some reason. The next day I discovered that it had been a friend of hers who had come to stay the night. She had simply
forgotten to tell me.
I still feel embarrassed at the memory of my absurd reaction and, were it not for the Pistorius case, I wouldn’t be admitting to it even now. Had I had a gun to hand at the time I might have had something to feel far more embarrassed about.