Friday morning. July 15, 2016.
Took my coffee back down to the landing and sat down on a bench to drink it while taking in the view of the river. Not much going on out on the water besides the occasional bursts of sunlight reflected on a wave here and there. A few ducks. No boats except for the ferry back from its run across to Beacon and waiting at the dock to carry its next load of commuters over to the train station. Nobody boarding at the moment. Nobody waiting around. Nobody here but me. I thought.
“Do you think the suffering will ever end?”
Guy must have walked up while I was looking the other way but I was startled out my reverie and it was as if he appeared out of nowhere. And that’s not really the first thing he said. First thing he said was good morning and the second was how are you today---I was tempted to say “Feeling blest, thank you.”---but that was prelude. Despite his mild manner and smile, he had serious business on his mind. My salvation. He was holding out a brochure. I pegged him at once as a Jehovah’s Witness, based on his politeness and the neatness of his dress. He was around forty, slim, blandly handsome, with graying dark hair and wearing dress slacks---no wrinkles---a periwinkle blue dress shirt---also no wrinkles---and a tie. I glanced past him and noticed that he and a companion, a blonde woman in her forties and also neatly dressed, in a white top and red skirt had set up a card table with a laptop streaming a video and a rack of brochures and booklets by the gate to the ferry gangway.
“Did you see the news from Paris last night?’ the man asked me.
I didn’t correct his geography. “I’ve been following it,” I said politely but warily, dreading what was coming.
“So,” he said in his unfailingly and maddeningly polite Jehovah’s Witnessy way. That’s the insidious thing about Jehovah’s Witnesses. Their devilish politeness makes me feel a craven obligation to be polite in return and listen to their nonsense instead of tearing up their brochures in front of their meekly smiling faces, dance on the shreds, and send them on their way with the kick in the behinds that all doomsday cultists and other door to door salesmen deserve. “So,” he said after we agreed that what had happened in France was terrible, “do you think the sadness will ever end.”
“No,” I said, trying not to be a coward about it by matching him in civility but not being anywhere near as rude and abrupt as I should have been, “Way of the world, isn’t it?”
Of course he didn’t take the hint. He was determined to make his sales pitch for the end of the world. “The sadness will end,” he said, as if assuring me that the weather report was for the rain letting up. And he opened up his brochure, which, by the way, was titled, “Will the Suffering Ever End?” At the top of the first page was a quote from the Book of Revelation, which he recited. The gist of the passage is that the suffering will end on with the end of the world on Judgment Day, which this guy omitted giving a specific date. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have been burned on this a few times in their history, as you may know. God will put an end to all the sadness and wipe away all tears when He establishes his Kingdom on earth or calls us all up to the one in heaven, I’m not sure where the JW comes down on this question. It’s probably in the brochure, which, moral weakling that I am, I accepted and then, doubly damning myself, made a show of looking over.
“Well, that’s the plan,” I said, “Long way off yet, though.”
I don’t know if he was inspired by the Holy Spirit or just naturally intuitive and sensed my growing distress or if he got worried that I would find my courage at last, but at this point he gave up and backed off. He said he hoped I’d find the brochure helpful, wished me a good day, and walked back over to join his companion at their stand, where he put on a pair of wrap-around shades like baseball players wear.
I hung around for a little while longer, finishing my coffee and, I’m ashamed to confess, re-reading the brochure. It was all nonsense, of course, but the quote from the bible is one of my favorites and I wish it was really was the plan, although I can stand for it to remain a long way off.
It’s Revelation 24: 3-4. The Jehovah’s Witnesses use their own translation but I prefer the New Revised Standard Version:
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.”