Mont Saint-Michel, France


 “Click”, went the sound of the heavy key as it turned to lock the shabby wooden door.   Hearing it, the young Japanese woman in the room suddenly realized that she was now trapped inside.   With a worried expression, she looked towards the man who was still facing the door.   He was a young, large French man.  Compared to the woman, he stood like a giant.  


Earlier that evening they met for the first time.  They agreed to meet again as the man was supposed to take her to an inexpensive restaurant on the island after his work.    So when the man entered the room, she was expecting to go out for supper.    In horror she watched the man lock the door from the inside.


With disbelief the young woman watched the man’s every move.  The man slowly removed the key and placed it in the back of his jeans.   Then he turned the door knob a few times to make sure the door was completely locked.   The man turned his head towards her and began to study her with an unpleasant, mysterious gaze.   His eyes looked quite different from how she remembered from earlier that evening.   His eyes were no longer pleasant.  Instead, they were filled with the glare of a beast.  He stared at her with intensity.  Startled, the young woman suddenly felt real danger for the first time.  


The room belonged to one of the expensive hotels on the island.  It was not for well-heeled hotel guests, but rather for the minimum wage employees who worked there.   A large rundown room located in one of the historical buildings on the island, it had hardly any furniture except for the beds.    A bare light bulb hung from the ceiling in the middle of the room shed the dingy yellowish glow and cast its shadow on the faded wallpaper of grey-brown.  A dozen beds crowded the room as if the hotel owner tried to place as many employees as possible at minimal cost.   As such, there was hardly any space among any of those beds.   Most of the beds had faded bed sheets with matching pillow cases covering thinly stuffed, well-work pillows.  


The woman’s body froze for a long moment upon looking at the man’s intense gaze, not unlike a doe that suddenly encounters a vicious wolf in a forest.  Realizing this, the man hurried toward her and grabbed her shoulders with his large hands and pushed down on her, attempting to lay her down on the bed.   As everything happened so quickly, the woman didn’t know how to react to his ill intension.  Instinctively, she immediately began to fight, kicking and shoving him with all her might.   Within a few seconds, she managed to escape his strong grip and stood up on the bed she was forced to lie down.   Now with escape on her mind, she then swiftly leaped to the next closest bed.  She continued to jump from one bed to another.   But the man was not about to give up that easily.  Taking large steps, he chased her in the room by walking through the narrow spaces between the beds.  After a few minutes chase, the battle seemed to end as quickly as it started.

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This is a true story of mine that occurred September, 1970.  It happened while I was visiting a small island called Mont Saint-Michel located in northern France.  In the crest of the island, there stood a famous abbey where countless pilgrims and travellers had visited over many centuries.  


Before revealing what happened after the attack by the young French man, I want to explain how I got there and why I travelled such a long distance to visit Mont Saint-Michel.   At that time, nearly half a century ago, it was very rare for a Japanese woman to travel alone.


I was still quite young when I decided to leave Japan to visit Europe.  Originally, I wanted to travel through the United States, but found that the cost of a trip to North America was prohibitive.  I simply could not afford it.   So I was looking for an alternate destination that suited my very low budget.  One day while in Tokyo, I visited a bookstore and found a popular guide book called “Travel in Europe – only $5 a day”.    I was completely sold on this idea because if I chose Europe, I would not only have enough money to get there but also to be able to stay for a desirably long period of time.  Even better, on this budget I could visit multiple countries, not just one or two.   


In the 70’s, this type of travel--spending as little money as possible each day--was becoming very popular all over the world.   Thus, anyone, especially young people, were able to journey anywhere on earth as long as their money lasted.   By the time I arrived in Europe, I saw countless tourists dressed like hippies, with their long hair and worn out jeans.  They were able to spend less than five dollars a day by eating in cheap restaurants and boarding in inexpensive accommodations, such as youth hostels and pensions (Spanish hotel).   The hippy travellers were literally every place that I visited, all carrying a large backpack and with their guide book in hand.   I became one of them.  


Soon after I arrived in Sweden, it became quite evident that carrying a backpack that weighed almost half of my body weight for long distances was a nightmare.   To alleviate this constant burden, and as other young travellers were doing at the time, I would leave my backpack in a coin locker at the train station, carrying only essential items with me, such as my passport, wallet, and some clothing.  This way, I could enjoy visiting various places without worrying about my heavy luggage.   


A few weeks into my travel in Europe, I met a couple of wonderful Japanese people in France.  They were living in Paris at the time and kindly allowed me to leave my backpack in their dwelling for a couple of months.   So with only a light weight Boston bag and a shoulder bag, I was able to travel all over Europe as if I were taking multiple short trips.  I only returned to Paris once in a while to repack my Boston bag with new clothes.   It definitely made travel so much easier.   The eur-rail pass I purchased in Japan gave me access to any country in Western Europe for three months.  With this in my possession, no matter how many times I returned to Paris, no further payment was required.  This arrangement was very convenient and definitely made my trip to Europe very enjoyable.    


My everyday attire for travelling was basically a sweater and a pair of jeans.  Just in case the weather changed, I also carried a light jacket everywhere I went.  In my Boston bag, I crammed a change of clothes for 1 week and toiletries.   In my small shoulder bag, I packed my passport, some local currency and US dollar traveller’s cheques.


I had stayed in Spain for a couple of weeks, after which I decided to travel through northern France before heading toward Mont Saint-Michel.   I boarded a night train from Madrid and arrived in Saint Malo the next morning.    There, under a beautiful blue sky, I wandered around the farmers’ market.  Strolling through streets lined with stands from the many vendors, I saw beautifully fresh, colourful vegetables and fruit, such as oversized red and yellow peppers the likes of which I had never seen in Japan.  After I enjoyed the scenery of the port of Saint Malo, I hopped on the 4:14 pm train to Mont Saint-Michel.    


One hour later, the train arrived at the small Pontorson station.  From there, a bus would take me to Mont Saint-Michel.   There was a good reason for selecting the late afternoon train from St. Malo to Pontorson.   I timed it so I could see the tidal island of Mont Saint-Michel from the distance, against a spectacular view of the beautiful sunset.   I was very lucky to have caught the last bus to the island which was to leave at 6:10 p.m.    I was going to see that amazing view.  The thought made me quite excited.      


While waiting for the bus, I began to look around at the people with no particular interest.   Most of them were travellers waiting for same bus to visit Mont Saint-Michel just as I was.   A few minutes later though, something caught my eye.  A couple of young male motorcyclists arrived at our bus stop and struck up a conversation with young American ladies who were dressed in tight jeans.   Talking in English, both motorcyclists and the young ladies seemed to hit it off immediately.  They continued to converse very loudly for a long time, which was annoying to me.   When the bus arrived, I thought I would not have to hear their noisy conversation any longer.  But I was wrong.


The ladies and biker lads separated with the ladies boarding the bus. As soon as they were on the bus, they proceeded to walk straight through it and took the rear seats.  Then they opened some of the side windows where they sat.   Though irritated by their rude and raucous conversation, I followed and sat relatively close to them for no other reason than simple curiosity.  The ladies were calling out to the motorcyclist guys from the open window and waving their arms, occasionally laughing out loud.  In return, the bikers beeped their horns and shouted back at the ladies.  At times, their vehicles were completely covered in a cloud of dust and fumes as they were following the bus too closely on their motorcycles.    It was a very peculiar sight, but I somehow found the joy in it.   When I think of it now, those motorcyclists were indeed very clever.  They knew that the best way to go to Mont Saint-Michel was to follow the bus.   


Because of those young travellers’ interactions, I spent most of my time paying more attention to the motorcyclists who chased after the bus.  So, through the back window, I observed the ‘trail of the bus’, rather than the ‘way to the island’.  Once the bus left the small town, there was nothing but farmer’s fields as far as we could see.   The bus continued to drive through the dusty rubble filled road turning, turning left and right every so often.  During that journey I noticed that for each fork on the road, there was a different statue as if it were a signpost for the road.  The various statues were of a black cannon, a wagon wheel and a rudder of a ship; others were of assorted large black items.   Because I all of my attention was trained on the motorcyclists, I somehow unconsciously remembered which direction the bus took whenever it approached those statues.  I did not realize how significant this would be for me until later that night.


It was possibly 20 minutes after the bus left the train station, I speculated, when there was suddenly a commotion on the bus.  Passengers who had been very quiet until then began to talk enthusiastically.  I stopped paying attention to the motorcyclists and turned my head to face the front window of the bus.       


It was the first view of the tidal island of Mont Saint-Michel.   Just as I had hoped, there it stood majestically in the distance, bathed in the light of the crimson colored sunset.  With the spire of the abbey soaring into the sky in the crest of the island, it stood like a medieval castle.  As the bus approached closer to it, the front window of the bus became more and more like an artist’s canvas.


Darkness surrounded the island quickly at sunset, then the dazzling street lights and the windows of the buildings began lighting up one by one.  It was truly a sight to behold.   The bus left the mainland and continued to drive down the one kilometer road, carrying the passengers who were awe-struck by the magnificent view.   At last, we arrived in Mont Saint-Michel!


Why did I fuss over this island so much?  Because ever since I was baptized at a Catholic church in Tokyo the previous year, it became one of my goals to visit churches, monasteries and abbeys in Europe.   Mont Saint-Michel Abbey was a very famous pilgrimage in France.  Just from one glance at this isolated, mysterious, beautiful tidal island, it was quite evident why this site became such a famous pilgrimage destination in France.


There were also disturbing stories associated with Mont Saint-Michel.  In olden days, many pilgrims and visitors were drowned while crossing that one kilometer road which connected between the island to the mainland.  They were not aware of the dangers of high tide there.  When it rolled in, they could not run fast enough to reach either the island or the mainland.  The rising water rushed in so quickly, it consumed the road to the island in the matter of minutes.   The unfortunate pilgrims had nowhere to escape and were quickly swallowed up by the rising water.


The first sight of the island through the window of the bus looked exactly like the photo from my guidebook.  It was surrounded by dry land not by the seawater.   So I wasn’t aware that the day I chose to visit Mont Saint-Michel was on the special day of the year that I could experience the exceptionally high tide, that which is much higher than the daily high tide.  For a few hours each year, this special high tide submerges the walkway and causes the Mont to become a true island once again, completely surrounded by seawater and floating in the middle of the sea.  


The bus stopped at the last station right in front of the stone walls surrounding the island.    As we were ready to get off the bus, someone inside shouted that the water was filling the dry land rapidly.  It was an amazing sight from the window - the rushing water began to cover the vast field right in front of us.   By the time we got off the bus, only the island and the road remained above the water.   Seeing this, the bus quickly turned around and return to the mainland so it wouldn’t be trapped by the sea.  


Now the task we had was to reach the gate from the bus stop so we could enter inside of the stone walls surrounding the island.   But by this time, the path from the road to the gate was already covered with the water.  The only way we could reach the gate was to get on small boats that were already waiting for us.  By now the sun had nearly set and we were surrounded by a darkening sea.  I stepped in one of the boats from the dock, relying only on the flashlight guiding us.  Staggering a little, I managed to get on the boat safely.   I began to feel insecure because of how rapidly the sky became dark as the high tide approached.  Within a few minutes the bay was filled with water except for the island.    Had I been more attuned to premonitory feelings, that helplessness should have been an ominous warning preceding the event that were about to take place on the island.     


The first thing I needed to do when I arrived on the island was to secure a room for the night.   Rushing past many souvenir shops and restaurants lit by bright neon lights, I entered the first hotel I spotted.  It was one of those grand and historical hotels which I often saw in several other places in Europe.  The reception area was very busy with new arrivals, most of whom had taken the same bus with me.   At the desk, I asked the man who looked like a manager of the hotel.


“Do you have a room for me tonight?”


He replied,


“I’m terribly sorry, but our rooms are all booked tonight.”


“Are there any other hotels nearby?”  I asked.  Then he said,


“Today is a very special day so I suspect that all the hotels no long have vacancy.”


Hearing this, I couldn’t hide my desperation of having nowhere go.  Empathetically, the manager must have realized the expression on my face and understood the kind of panic I was in.  He paused for moment and then kindly offered an alternative solution.


“If you don’t mind staying in the hotel employees’ room, you are welcome to spend overnight there free of charge.”    


He looked into my eyes with a sympathetic gaze and smiled.


As the last bus already returned to the train station and the island was completely surrounded by water, I realized that I didn’t have much choice but to accept his kind offer.  I thanked the manager and felt obligated to him.  The manager then called one of the nearby bell boys and said something to him in French.  Then he turned his head towards me and said.


“This is Michel.  He will take you to the employees’ room close to here, so please follow him.  I assume you haven’t had dinner yet, so I also asked him to take you to an inexpensive restaurant after his work.  His shift here will end by 8:00.  So try to rest for a while and wait for him.”


Michel, the bell boy, was in his twenties.  He was very tall with wide shoulders and had curly brown hair.  The hotel uniform suited him well and he looked quite handsome.  I thanked the manager in French and walked after Michel who didn’t know any English.  It was not an easy task to follow Michel as he had much longer legs than mine.   Without a word, he climbed many cobble stone stairways effortlessly.  The narrow staircases were lit by the dim street lights.  After 5 minutes or so, Michel turned a left-handed corner and stood in front of an old building.   He unlocked the door and gestured for me to go inside as he turned the light on.


I walked into the room.  There was no furniture except for a dozen beds covered with greyish sheets and the walls with old wallpaper.   A naked light bulb dangling from the middle of the ceiling of the very large room.  I never expected to have a luxury room but also did not anticipate that I would stay in a room in such poor condition.   I was very disappointed.  I knew I should simply be thankful just to have a room to stay the night.   I turned my head toward Michel and thanked him with a sincere smile.   Michel returned his smile and shut the door behind him, hurrying back to his work.


It must had been a very busy night at the hotel as no employees came back to the room.  I was all alone after Michel left.  I sat on one of the beds right under the light.  Taking out a small notebook, I began to do my daily routine - which was to write down the details of the trip and record the money spent that day.  As the manager had instructed, Michel was back to pick me up a little after 8:00 p.m.  When I heard the door open, I was relieved as I began to feel hungry and was ready to go out to eat.  I quickly put my notebook and the pencil away in my bag and grabbed my jacket.  


Then it happened.  Michel entered the room and locked the door, trapping me inside with him.  As had described, I fought him with all my might and somehow managed to escape from his arms.  Then something incredible happened.  As I desperately jumped from one bed to another, I suddenly remembered the rosary beads I kept in my shoulder bag, a bag that I was clutching very tightly under my left arm and never let go even while I was being chased.  It was a baptism gift from my priest in Tokyo.   In desperation, almost unthinkingly, I took it out from the bag and held the crucifix up to Michel.  If it worked, the sight of the crucifix might give a slight chance that Michel would stop, perhaps causing him to realize that he was about to commit a great sin.         

To execute my thought, I halted for a brief moment and stared right at him.  Thinking that his victim finally gave in, Michel also stopped chasing after me.  At that very moment, I took out the rosary from the bag and thrust the crucifixion right in front of his face.  He was stunned for a moment.  Then his eyes were glued to the crucifixion for a few seconds more.  His devil like eyebrows were back to normal in a matter of seconds and his raised hands were slowly lowered to his side.  Michel continued to stare in my direction as if he were possessed for a long moment.   After he calmed down, Michel turned and walked toward the door with his head down.  Without a word, he took out the key from his back pocket, then unlocked and opened the door for me.  


He must have seen many religious people staying at his hotel.  When he saw the crucifix which was attached to my rosary, perhaps he thought I was a nun.  Regardless of his reasoning, I had somehow been spared from his evil intentions.   It was truly a miracle!  As I was returned the rosary back to my shoulder bag, I said a brief prayer of gratitude, thanking God for saving me.  Then, I grabbed my Boston bag and silently walked toward the door where Michel was standing.  When I passed him, I became very aware that my body was trembling.   My heart felt like it would burst from chest, and I thought I could hear the sound of each heartbeat.   The only thing I could control was to not burst into tears in front of Michel.  In my traumatized state, I left the dreary, hellish room.    


It had been raining and the cobble stones were wet, reflecting the glow from the street lights.   I climbed down the stairs quickly but with caution as they were quite slippery from the rain.   Soon I approached the hotel where the manager offered me the place to stay.  I rushed to go by the hotel so I didn’t have to see the manager.  He was the last person I wanted to see after such a dreadful night.  Unfortunately, the manager was having a break and standing in front of the hotel.  He was smoking alone.  Without knowing what had happened between Michel and me, he called out to me and said,     


“Is everything okay?”


Avoiding the eye contact with the manager, I nodded and passed the hotel as quickly as possible.  Though in my mind, I wanted to shout at him, ‘This is your fault.  What am I supposed to do now?’


Soon I arrived at the gate and found that the tide waters had receded.  The road to the mainland clear of water but both sides of the path were still submerged.  By this time there was no need for a boat ride from the gate to the road.  The dock, full of tourists mere hours ago, was now deserted.  Only darkness surrounded the quiet place.  I stood in front of the gate and looked towards the direction of the mainland.   The only lights I could see were the dim lights from the town across the bay as well as the streetlights along the road.  Because of the rain, those lights threw only a shadowy glow giving the area an ominous glow.


Despite how I was feeling, I had to tell myself, ‘There is no other way but to go forward, step by step’.  So, I began to walk on the road toward the town across the bay.   Had it not been for the sparsely situated streetlights, I would have been walking in near pitch blackness, and I could fortunately make out the road which I followed. When I reached the half way point to the mainland, I heard the sound of a car engine in the distance.   Soon, a car approached me from the direction of the island.  When it caught up to me, the car slowed down completely and began to drive alongside.   Then a man opened the car window.  It was Michel.  I had a glimpse of his face under the street light.  He had an awkward grin as if he were a little boy who was caught with his hand in a cookie jar.  Then he waived his hand and gestured me to get into his car.  Without looking at his face, I said “Non mercy,” as if I were talking to myself.   I was appalled at the audacity and, of course, frightened at what he might do on this isolated road.  Michel patiently drove beside me for a couple more minutes.  Realizing that his attempt to convince me to get in the car failed, he finally sped up and drove away to the direction of the mainland.


About 10 minutes later, I finally crossed the bay to reach the seaside town.   When I walked along the main road, I noticed that there were many hotel signs.   Hoping that I could stay in one of them, I visited every hotel, even if it had a “no vacancy” sign.    Unfortunately, all were actually booked solid and not a single room was available.   Eventually reaching the end of the small town, there were no more buildings.  At that point, I came to realize that I had no choice but to keep walking, in the dark, to the train station.   ‘How long it would take me to get to the Pontorson station?’ I began to wonder.   ‘It would surely take hours.  After all, it took the bus longer than 20 minutes from the train station to reach Mont Saint-Michel.’    These thoughts suddenly struck me with a stifling fear--a fear of walking alone in a strange country at night where there were no street lights.


The night sky didn’t help me either.  Because of the rain they had, the dark grey clouds rushed through the midnight blue sky as if in a race.  The bright moon showed its face intermittently between the racing clouds.  Under the angry sky and surrounded by the vast farm lands, I felt extremely alone and frightened.  


But I knew there was no time to be dwelling on such negative thoughts.   I needed to get to that train station in one piece.  So I began to hum some Japanese songs while walking on the gravel road.   Hearing my own footsteps and singing my favorite songs comforted me somewhat and I soon began to think about my family back home.  This made me terribly home sick.   In the distance, I could see the faint outline of lowing cows.  As if they were bathing under the moon light, they stood motionless except for their heads dipping down to chew grass.  When they heard my footsteps, they turned their heads to and seemed to stare attentively.   As if to encourage me to press on.    

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Why had I decided to travel alone in Europe?   After graduating from high school, I worked in Tokyo for a couple of years. During my first job, I had an unpleasant experience which made me search for the meaning of life and my place in it.  Around the same time, I happened to pass by a Catholic church in Akabane, Tokyo. Each time I stood in front of the church, my eyes went to the steeple which seemed to soar almost infinitely into the sky. It caused me to wonder if religion would answer a burning question I held. One day I finally gathered enough courage to enter the church.  


There I met a delightful young priest from Nagasaki, Kyushu.  We struck up a conversation and eventually became friends. Under his guidance, I began to learn about the life of Jesus.  Until then, I was never interested in any religions even though my parents were Buddhists.  I never knew what Christianity was all about.  It was fascinating to learn about a man who sacrificed his life for all human beings and from that I wanted to know more about him.  So it became my routine to visit the church every Sunday.


After 6 months or so, I was invited to attend a retreat in Kamakura by some friends from the church.  As I didn’t see any benefit in attending such a retreat, I initially declined the invitation.   But they were quite insistent.   Even the priest who was giving me the weekly lessons began to encourage me to attend the retreat.   So I reluctantly accepted the invitation.   Little did I know that it would change my entire life in such a short time!   


A few weeks later, we were all on an evening train for Kamakura to attend the retreat.   After breakfast the next morning, a dozen young people gathered in a small room.  In came the priest who was in charge of the retreat.  He was a large man in his late 40’s with thinning hair.  He wore a pair of dark framed glasses but through those glasses, we could see his blue eyes, something that we rarely saw in Japan.  He originally came from Montreal, Canada and had lived in Japan for a few years.  His name was Father Rogé. With a heavy French accent, he began to speak in Japanese.  


Once he introduced himself, Father Rogé turned around and began to draw two large dots on the blackboard behind him.  One dot which was close to the bottom of the board and the other dot directly above the first one but much higher on the board.  Then he said,


“This bottom dot represents birth, or the beginning of life.  The dot above represents death or the end of life.  As you know, none of us will avoid death once we are born.  Also none us will live our lives in exactly the same way from another.”


Then he drew a straight line from the bottom dot to the top,


“This line represents a person who never challenged anything because the only focus of his life was to live it safely.”


Then he drew a wavy line from the bottom to the top and said,


“This line represents a person who chose to challenge new things when he faced more than one option.  Consequently, his life becomes much more fulfilled than the one with the straight line.”    


Finally, he drew a jagged line from the bottom to the top,


“This line represents a person who chose to have the adventurous or unexpected life.”


Then he asked us,


“Since you are free to select your own life right now, which path would you choose?  I would imagine you would rather choose the one with many twists and turns than the straight one.  You are still young.  Your future is ahead of you.  You can build your own life anyway you wish.  Go abroad! See the world!”


When I heard this, I felt as if lightning struck me.   I think it was because I was still young and very easily influenced by the people around me.   So I took his words literally and decided to go and see the world.  Upon consulting my traditional Japanese parents, of course they were strongly against it.  Letting one of their daughters travel alone in foreign countries was very frightening for them.  However, they eventually, begrudgingly agreed to let me go.  I withdrew all the money I had and began to search where I should go first.  When I think back now, I definitely chose the jagged line on the blackboard.  


One other thing that Father Rogé told us which I clearly remember even now is this.  


“Once you choose which path to take, try not to regret your decision.  This is because even though you thought it was you who made that decision, it was actually predetermined long before you chose that path.    So it isn’t even relevant to say ‘should have’ and ‘could have’ as there was no other path you could have taken.  


If your life path is already predetermined, don’t you think that it is worth taking the challenge of new things from now on?  If so, no matter how hard some experiences you have to go through, you should see the merit of those hardships.  Later in life, you will come to realize that those difficult experiences were, in fact, necessary.   All you need is to learn to recover from those unpleasant events and control your destiny.  Once you know how to do this, you will definitely have a wonderful life.”        


He was right about what he said.  When I reflect on my life up to this point in time, the experience I had in Mont Saint Michel, horrific as it was, helped me tremendously.   Because when I faced any hardships subsequent to that frightening evening, I was always able to tell myself, ‘If I could survive that daunting night on the island, I should be able to get through what I’m facing right now.’   I’ve had many other unpleasant events since then, but I truly believe because of those negative experiences, I became a much stronger and happier person.   

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While I was walking alone through the quiet farm lands in the dark, I encountered a fork in the gravel road every so often and I needed to decide which of the roads to take.   For each branch on the road, there was a statue such as the ‘black cannon’, a ‘wagon wheel’ and a ‘rudder of the ship’ and others that I saw from the back of the bus on the way to Mont Saint-Michel.  Surprisingly, miraculously, I remembered which road to take every time I encountered one of those statues.


When I finally saw the dim light from the town in the distance, I felt infinitely relieved.  I also realized how hungry I was; I hadn’t eaten since midday.  My watch was showing that it was already after midnight.  As light from the town became closer and closer, I correspondingly felt better and better.   I knew I was taking the right path; I was certain of at least that much.  I continued to sing some songs and kept walking towards the town.


After a couple of hours, I finally arrived at the train station.  Being such a small station, no one was inside and only few lights illuminated the building.  I hoped that at least I could get in, but the door at the entrance was locked.   I walked around the outside of the building and tried to open other doors, but they were also locked.  Feeling distressed by this time, I finally gave up and decided to sit on the cold and hard stone stairs in front of the station.    


Though only September, it was a cold night. And being close to the sea, the north wind kept blowing against the station building.  I began to shiver not only from the cold but also from hunger.  It was 3:00 a.m.  To try to keep myself warm, I took all the clothes from my bag and tried to sleep on the stone steps.   Neither helped much.  I continued to shiver and the hunger pangs became impossible to ignore.  I spent all night as if I were a homeless person.  My discomfort that night made me sympathetic to the ordeal that homeless people must constantly experience.  This is likely the reason that after all these years, I have an acute empathy for homeless families and readily try to provide as much help as I can for them


The sun rose shortly after 6 a.m. an employee at the station finally arrived.  As soon as the entrance door was opened, I rushed into the washroom.   There, I took the extra clothing off and refreshed myself.  As I looked into the mirror, I was suddenly overwhelmed with emotion and began to cry, stifling the tears as much as I could so as not to completely lose control in a public place.   Not only did I survive the dreadful experience in Mont Saint-Michel, but I also trekked for so many hours in the dark to get to the station.  Lack of steep and mild hypothermia didn’t help me either.  But at the same time, I felt the wondrous relief of being out from danger at last.   How warm and safe it was to be inside this otherwise unremarkable train station.   How thankful I was to have survived last night.  I exited the washroom and sat on one the benches inside of the station and waited for the 7:00 a.m. train to Paris.  By this time, the feelings of anxiety and vulnerability had left, leaving me in a very calm state, as if nothing happened on the island the night before…