In the fall of 1981, after a tour of Israel, I spent the school year attending the Intercollegiate Center for Classical Studies in Rome. “Il Centro” as we called it was located in Trastevere (across the Tiber) section of Rome, on the Vatican side but a medieval section outside the ancient city. One night a friend of mine from the Centro, Richard, ventured out with me to watch “Superman” show at the English speaking movie theater in Trastevere. The theater is located near a square famous for marijuana smoking hippies, transients and Eurorail pass backpackers to hang out for all ours of the day and night.

When the movie ended, it was about 1:00 AM, Rich and I began our walk back to the Centro. While crossing the plaza, a Roman city police car (the little blue and whites with the scummy cops inside, not the Nazi looking federal police), came up to the curb and the police began shouting at us to get into the car. We had no idea why and didn’t comply. The policemen stopped the car, got out, and threw us in the back seat.

At first we assumed we must be suspects for something we didn’t do and that we were about to begin a scary adventure into the Roman legal system. But soon we realized our fate was to be far worse. Our Italian wasn’t very good but we knew enough to know the two policemen were trying to decide which way to turn at every intersection. One of us, I don’t remember which of us, said to the other, that we must not be going to the police station because they didn’t seem to know how to get there. A tremendous sensation of fear and dread immediately descended upon us, almost terror. The two of us knew something very bad was intended for us, and we conspired in the back that no matter what happened, NOT to fight back, not to give any excuse for these men to use their guns.

The car went south, further south, till it was in South Rome, many miles away. South Rome’s basically the ghetto area of Rome. Then the car turned down an alley; this was about 130 or 2 in the morning. It drove down this alley till there was a clearing that was filled with railroad tracks. I guess we were in an abandoned railroad yard in the middle of a ghetto in south Rome at 2AM.

The policemen ordered us out of the car. We complied. They began yelling at us in Italian something like “why’d you do it?” or something like that. We’d respond “do what?” and they would strike us, back handed across the face. We’d fall down and writhe with pain on the ground. They continued shouting, kicked us, picked us up and struck us again. Over and over and over again. I was being beaten like I’d never experienced nor imagined. I was sure this was the last night of my life. I thought of my mother, who would never even know what had happened to me or know even my whereabouts. I cried out to God, ‘save me’. No theology, here, just an elementary, simple “save me”.

Suddenly four young people arrived. At least one was a woman, but the others I believe were men. They were dressed in long dark coats and spoke completely fluent English. I remember the woman leaning over me on the ground and saying “show him your card”. I knew immediately what she meant. In my pocket was a photo id card, showing that the Italian Department of Culture had me registered as an official โ€œalien archaeologist”. You see, I was there studying archaeology and had registered with the department and had this id with a very official “La Republica D’Italia” stamp across my face. In truth, it was a fancy museum pass that allowed me to go for free to archaeology sites and to have non-public access. But when I pulled it out of my pocket and showed it to my attacker, he took one look at it, threw it on the ground, shouted to his colleague and jumped in the squad car and sped away. I’m not even sure if the policemen saw the four young people or not, it was confusing of course and I was still on the ground rolling around in agony.

Then I remember not much other than being lifted up off the railroad tracks by these people, and they carried me (and Rich) somehow to a very busy street, where they hailed a taxi, told the taxi to take us home, which it did.

Well, I I’ve thought about this a great deal over the years. Maybe it was just luck that there were four young people near by, in an abandoned rail yard in south Rome at 2am, who happened upon us, spoke perfect English and were willing to walk up and intervene in a situation where armed Roman policemen were beating two foreigners, then like Samaritans carried these two grown men to a taxi and paid for it to take us home.

Let’s see, could there have been some kind of nightclub nearby? What about the English? What about the bravery to intervene? What about knowing about my “card”? How’d she know to say that to me? What about the Good Samaritan taxi ride? What are the odds of all that? What’s easier to believe, this sort of astronomically unlikely set of circumstances, or to believe that it was not yet my appointed time and that God sent his angels to rescue me?

Maybe I hallucinated and saw the woman only in my imagination? Then how did I get to the taxi?