Tuesday, May 18, 2010


When the doorbell rang the other morning, I was glad, in spite of being sick, that I had taken the time to dress. The last time the landlord stopped by to do repairs, I was still in my dressing gown when the bell rang and had felt thoroughly louche when I opened the door to him. This time, as I ran downstairs to answer, I stopped at the window on the landing to look over the driveway. No car, so it wasn’t the landlord. Maybe a neighbour calling?

But when I opened the door, I instantly – without doubt – knew who it was standing there, though they were strangers. A middle-aged couple, well-dressed in conservative business clothes, each with a determined smile that flashed on as soon as I pulled the door open.

‘Grüß Gott.’

The woman began with the ubiquitous Austrian greeting. When a stream of German followed, I was, possibly for the first time since coming here, relieved. This would be easier than usual.

I waited for a pause and then said clearly, giving no quarter to the smattering of phrases I’ve acquired, ‘I’m sorry. I don’t speak any German.’

Her brown eyes widened slightly; her lips twitched, pulling the careful smile askew. She glanced at the man next to her and tapped his arm with well-manicured fingers. Apparently he was the one with more fluent English.

‘You’ve heard about the Jehovah’s Witnesses,’ he began.

I nodded, my own smile tight. ‘Yes, of course, and I have my own spiritual beliefs.’

My standard line, employed always as the door is already swinging to. This time, they made no reply at all.

‘Good-bye.’ Pronounced firmly, punctuated by the widening of my own insincere smile.

My lack of German may have come as a relief to this pair, I thought as I climbed again the garish red-marble staircase, glad to have the intrusive interval over. But I resented having been called downstairs, away from my work, when I was not feeling well.

It doesn’t always end so smoothly. In Ireland there was a couple who called at least four times. On two occasions I had seen them from the window as they conferred by their car, parked in the road in front of the house, so I had ignored the doorbell when it rang. I didn’t care whether they had seen me or not. But twice I had unwittingly opened the door to them.

On the last occasion, the man of the pair was particularly insistent, trying to prolong the conversation. When I refused to discuss my beliefs, he wanted to know whether they were ‘Biblically based’. When I declined to answer, he inquired about my accent. He, himself, had an accent that was not native to the area, nor did either of them look like any of the people I knew locally, though he claimed they were living nearby in a house that belonged to his family. In fact, he sounded Northern Irish, by way of England.

Having prolonged the conversation through that gambit, he again pressed me about my beliefs. I shook my head, no. I referred to the time in one of my past lives, when I was raised in another church known for its door-to-door proselytising. We might as well debate politics, I told him.

‘I have my own spiritual beliefs now, and I don’t want to discuss them.’ Again I wished them a good day and began closing the door; again he persisted about my beliefs.

‘But are they Biblically based?’, he squeezed out as I pushed the door to.

‘Biblically based?’ I thought as I walked away. As though he could change my mind by proving his stripe of religion was ‘Biblically based’? Or more ‘Biblically based’ than another set of beliefs? I tried to imagine his splutter had I asked him why I should base my beliefs on an 5,000-year-old identity myth.

I wondered, as I had before, at the arrogance of those who feel the necessity to spend their time in what must be, in large part, a futile exercise to persuade others of the superiority of one set of dogmas over another. And at his own submission to the demand, for its my understanding that his god as interpreted for him by his sect requires him to spend a specified number of hours each month so engaged. But why should his persistence in the belief that he should waste his time supersede my wish that he not waste my own?

At any rate, that was a few months before we left Ireland, and I had thought he would not call on us again, though I suppose they would have evidentially gotten around to us once more. And now, having been visited by them in California as well as in Ireland, I have been introduced to the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Salzburg.

The church, world wide.

1 comment:

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