So I pretend to ignore
Hey, that pain is such a bore
But there’s just no way
And if I try to embrace…
or even replace
That pain, just gets stronger every day
So much there
So little space
In which to…
I want to share three stories that yesterday evening’s shift at work inspired. This will take three posts.
I pick up a woman I’ve picked up many times before. We have a good rapport, and have never had anything but friendly conversations. Often it’s quite fun talking with her. She seems intelligent and relatively easy going. I’ve often noticed a judgmental streak but it’s always appeared to me with a good natured manner.
This time is no different at first and I am my normal, chatty self with her. I’m quite comfortable. Not at all feeling the need for that silent, total listening mode I must always be ready to adopt when on the job. In an off-hand remark, the woman mentions some passengers who normally are also on this bus. They are Jehovahs Witnesses who usually go to an evening church service at this time. I tell her that I just transported them an hour ago.
The woman says, “Oh yea… they change their service schedule to keep in line with their church on the mainland.”
Hawaii does not observe daylight savings time so the shift that happened last Sunday, affected the time difference. I’m not aware of that aspect of the Jehovahs Witness faith, and say so.
“I did some research on their beliefs a while ago so I knew that too” my passenger informs me. “One of them was trying to convert me so I decided to educate myself on their religion.” She pauses and I audibly acknowledge what she just said and she continues… “I know a lot more about Jehovahs Witnesses now than I did before. There’s no chance I’d ever convert as I am solid in my faith. I just like to know as much as I can about these things, to know my faith is an informed one.”
I again make a wordless, audible acknowledgement. There is a moment of silence as I consider whether to ask the very specific question now on my mind. I note my awareness that in my job, it is (in my opinion) almost always a mistake to get too deep into possibly contentious topics like this. I decide I can venture a bit farther with this one.
“May I ask you a question?” I begin.
“Well, I had heard somewhere… something about Jehovahs Witnesses that perhaps you can confirm if it’s true. I’d heard that they believe only a set number of souls will go to heaven on judgement day and so that’s why they try so hard to convert people… to get points in heaven. To have a better chance at being one of those few souls that get to paradise.”
“Yes” my passenger responds “This is true. I’m not sure the exact number. 400,000 or what, but they believe only a set number will go to heaven.”
“I hear it was more like 140,000.”
“Perhaps that’s it, yes.”
I decide to go a bit farther still. “Seems to me like quite a control mechanism. To keep parishioners in line and focused on something nearly unattainable. Pretty devious if you ask me.”
The woman makes a sound of agreement and says, “Yes, I agree it’s very controlling. I disagree with this and don’t abide such things in my faith. I believe God will judge us on our good works and not some arbitrary number. That God wants me to focus on being a good person and not try to guess how to get to heaven. That’s what I teach my children.”
“Yes, I agree.” I say, trying to keep on topic, but in the spirit of inclusion. “I agree completely that it is our job to focus on doing good in the world rather than just listen to some preacher who thinks he knows what God wants.”
My passenger hesitates… perhaps thinking about the possibility my statement might apply to her own faith. Perhaps not.
“Well… I try not to focus on judging other faiths. As long as you are a good person. God will know.”
“Indeed” I say quickly. “I have some friends who are Jewish and I believe it says in their book of laws, the Talmud… ”
“I’ve read about that book of theirs.” She says cutting me off. “I know a lot about that one as well.”
“Oh good. And doesn’t it say that Jews are supposed to… ?”
“Some of the most disgusting things that book allows those people to do. I won’t even say specifically here in front of my daughter… but it’s disgusting!”
I had intended to mention that I’ve read about how Jewish law prohibits the faithful from criticizing the theology of other faiths and directs them to only focus on criticizing their actions. But my passenger was becoming increasingly adamant and I could sense she no longer was really listening to me. If she ever really had been. I had gone too far.
“Oh I could tell you some things about the Talmud and what it tells those people they can do. Even their leaders. They can have sex with infants and do… other things. It’s truly awful! I know, I did my research. It’s DISGUSTING!!”
As I operate the lift to assist my passenger as she is now home, she continues to speak in this manner. Now making the eye contact previously not possible before when I was driving. Looking onto her eyes with as much compassion as I feel I am capable, I can now see the pain in this woman. Pain and the fear that accompanies it. The veneer of good natured equanimity is now gone. Revealing a hatred that pains her to allow to surface.
But it’s hatred none the less. Pure and simple and her gaze bores into me like a drill. Her hateful eyes speak of how… only her understanding that I am not the object of that hate, is what keeps it from being unleashed in total.
And she keeps speaking this way. Insisting I inform myself of what it is she is so certain. The terrible things about “those people” and how I too will be disgusted by what I can learn if I only do the kind to “research” she has done.
Yes… I went too far.
As I leave this woman, I am so very sad to have failed in this way. Failed to keep my ego from saying what I did, and enabling her hate.
I vow to do better next time.