Aching to be Kind

by Shawna Lewis


I’ve never met a Jehovah’s Witness I didn’t like. Sure, they’re a bit loony, but every encounter I’ve ever had with one of ‘em has been just plain charming. Like this morning.

Or, okay, like a few years ago, when I was living in Stockholm. I’m out wandering and this mini-woman, in her nineties I guess, motions to me with her feeble middle and index fingers and I point to myself, eyebrows seeking confirmation. She nods. I go to her, and she asks me in that accent that every elderly person on the planet seems to develop eventually, whether I’m in a hurry. “Nej,” I tell her. Nope. She smiles, and each muscle inside of her dragging black dress seems to relax. She assumes I’m strong, which is a first for me and I grin smugly, as she clasps my forearm for support and makes her way down to the bench a few inches away. She makes it. Reaching down into her teeny pocketbook, she pulls out a little magazine called The Watchtower. Ah. I’m about to be proselytized, I gather.

I met a few nice Mormons on the bus once. Missionaries. They had very clear skin and excellent conversation skills, two sweet boys in their late twenties with matching black backpacks. They, too, gave me some free literature.

But there’s something about Jehovah’s Witnesses that brings out this uproariously kind side in me. I hug, I smile, I compliment their outfits. It’s a sight to behold. I start to picture all the rude people they’ve gone through before they got to me, and I just ache to be kind to them. I suppose I’m raising their religious hopes for nothing, and I guess that’s deceitful on some level, but I see no reason to be rude.

The yellow pages list five of their churches, “Kingdom Hall,” in Oklahoma City. Six in Tulsa.

I remember once, in school, we had to put ourselves into groups and draw from a hat to see which religious group we would study. We’d do research on them, then present a skit that showed “a day in the life” of that particular group. You’ve never seen seventh-graders so politically incorrect. My group got Jehovah’s Witnesses. I remember pretending to ride bicycles around the classroom, handing out tracts to my classmates, and knocking on chalk-drawn doors.

I can still picture each of the other groups of classmates: skinny white boys with their Nikes sticking out from under their oversized kimonos; a Mexican girl wearing a chef’s hat—a.k.a, the pope; a plainly-clothed “couple” tending to their buggy full of Amish “children.” The list goes on and on.

Doesn’t it?

We’ve all got our beliefs, and we all look rather silly to one another. But our beliefs are important to us. I’m surprised more religious groups aren’t as aggressive.

This morning I was waiting in my car for a Tulsa grocery store to open, reading Salinger like an addict, my window cracked a few inches to enjoy the unusual breeze. A beautiful woman approaches my car, so happy I can see her molars. “I don’t mean to startle you,” she says from beneath a big straw hat, “but you look like a reader.” I nod. Through the crack in my window she slides The Watchtower, and I feel its papery thickness between my fingertips. “Maybe you could try this out later, when you’re done with that.”

Channeling seventh-grade social studies, I mentally swap shoes with her for a moment. I see myself trying to get my class to listen to my assigned beliefs. I see them, in their various costumes, ignoring me or giggling at me. I see the chalk-drawn doors that won’t open. I know I could never believe what she wants me to, and yet, I just can’t bring myself to say so.

“Thank you so, so much,” I say, my hand over my heart. “And your hat is very pretty.”

Photo by Dan Patterson