by Kelly Salasin
A knock on the door is always an occasion—and a rare one at that– when you live on the backroads of Vermont, especially when you don’t hear the car approach your house from the road below. “Who could it be?” you wonder.
When I’m home alone and don’t recognize the face at the door, my first concern is safety. The tie for second goes to: salesman or Jehovah Witness.
We have a surprising number of salesman on these back roads, at least one every few months, but the JW’s only show up every few years. It probably takes them that long to recover. New Englanders are tough.
My last team of “Witnesses” was just after the first anniversary of 9/11, in response to an article I published in a local magazine. I’m not sure what triggered the visit, but as always, I listened politely before kindly & succinctly expressing, “I’m not interested.”
Today however, I try to be more curious, than annoyed. I’m shooting for world peace. I figure it’s the least I can do. Although I find the visit intrusive, I’m also impressed. It takes balls to drive up to a remote home in a crunchy area like ours with a Bible in your hand.
There are two of them on my porch, dressed in their Sunday best: a man approaching mid-life and a woman exiting it. Another two sit in the car staring out at us. I look right back at them, wondering if they’re alternates– or reinforcements–and what it would take to bring them on.
I’ve gone house to house for Jesus before. I was 8 and my best friend was a Baptist. Her family would let me tag along when they responded to the scripture’s call to be “fishers of men.” I had fun selling Jesus– like Girl Scout Cookies and Trick-or Treat for UNICEF.
The tall, clean-cut man on my porch asks if I know the Bible—and just to help this visit move along, I stretch the truth and say that I grew up Baptist.
“Are you from the South?” he asks.
“No, just army bases,” I say, explaining that I’ve been exposed to faiths of all kinds: Baptist, Catholic, Mormon, etc. I realize that these are just competing flavors of Christianity, but that doesn’t seem relevant to this particular conversation.
“Did you ever find one for you?” the silver-haired lady in cataract sunglasses asks, as she steadies herself on my railing.
“No, I like them all,” I say, “Religion is more of a cultural experience for me.”
This latest admission opens the door for talk about pestilence and war and Isiah and God’s plan for the Earth. I begin to loose touch with my intention. Am I being open and kind, or have I crossed over to stupid and gluttonous for punishment?
The man looks up from his text, sensing my distress–or perhaps, he has never gotten this far in his shtick in this town so it’s uncomfortable for him too. “I can leave this with you and come back again with my wife in another week or so,” he offers.
I wonder if that’s his wife in the backseat of the Subaru. I can’t make out the fourth person. Maybe it’s a Jehovah Witness child. “I had two in my classroom that belonged to your church,” I say, forgetting that they call it a Kingdom Hall rather than a church.
I want to add that those kids had to take back a cake that they made for me–once their parents found out that it was for my birthday (the JH’s don’t celebrate birthdays); but I silence my own over-zealous tongue. (Those kids and their parents left the party with the cake and it outside while the rest of the children in the third-grade classroom had to face throwing my surprise party without one.)
Instead of telling that story I offer a kind, but succinct “No,” to the follow up visit and to the Jehovah Witness for Dummies booklet. “I have my own walk with Spirit,” I tell them, with all the confidence of my hard-won, forty-five year old relationship with the Mystery.
When the tall man puts his arm out to assist the older woman down our porch stairs, they turn toward the sandwich board sign in our woodshed, asking “Are you the YogaDance teacher?” As if to say: We know the brand of your faith! (Either that or I’ve just overlooked an opportunity to sell to them.)
I wave to the expressionless faces in the back seat and hope that I haven’t been too kind. I don’t want my neighbors’ hostility to come as a shock to them; but then again, maybe that’s why they don’t come back too often– and I like that.
More than anything, I feel sorry for the witnessing Jehovahs; and the funny thing is, they probably feel the same for me. Feeling sorry for each other has to be better than some of the alternatives.
The JW’s on my porch this afternoon didn’t seem too happy about life, but then again, they do spend a lot of time telling people about all the awful things in the world. That– and they don’t do holidays.
“We could become Jehovah Witnesses,” my husband offers as a solution to our slashed Christmas budget. I laugh at his creativity, but I couldn’t give up holidays. I love celebrations of faith–which is why I don’t slam doors or believe in war or say to others, “My way or hell.”