We’re still in Mexico, and conversations with our new Canadian friends continue. Topics range widely, but owing to their Jehovah’s Witness faith, we often drift to other worldly questions. I’m OK with that. To expect otherwise would be unfair.
Over recent morning coffees at Café Providencia downstairs from our apartment, Darrell explained what brought him to his faith. Until six years ago, raised Irish Catholic, he’d left religion far behind. Then fate brought both Heidi and God into his life.
As Katherine and I listened patiently he explained that he’d always been looking for answers but only late in life had he found them.
Is there a God? What are his revealed words? Is there an afterlife and, if so, what is it like? Is the Bible’s creation story true and are we saddled with original sin with our only redemption the blood of the lamb? Heavy stuff. Darrell bought it all.
My friend’s story got me thinking. Surely his conversion is shared by many millions of the faithful. Why not me?
I mulled this over for a day or two and, with every new thought, I went deeper and further into my past.
Believing as I do, that my personal approach to life owes little if anything to what was stuffed into my head as a youngster, trial and error, living openly, being harder on myself then others, showed the way.
OK. If true, what events in the real world since the age of 20 caused me to reject answers? After all, matters of dogma completely aside, that is what separated me from Darrell.
Fall semester 1967. I’d transferred from Berkeley to UCLA to escape the ugliness of both rioters and cops. Serendipity took a hand.
On a lark, with one of my fraternity’s Little Sisters riding shotgun in my little MG, I motored up and down Main Street in Venice looking for a dive seedy enough to quench my as yet underage thirst for brew. We must have passed by three or four times before my companion pointed.
I looked to my right and, tucked behind a closed-up Shell Station and backed up to the beach was Kilroy’s Tavern. From the moment we entered, our world was turned upside down.
Living within the land of glitz and glamor that Bel Air and Beverly Hills had become, we had stumbled into a world where there were no nuances, no excuses, no situational ethics, or shadings of right and wrong.
We soon discovered that the regulars — the broken-down teamsters, longshoremen and their women — possessed a purity unknown in our other lives. No one there had an ugly soul, but because of money or power wasn’t quite so ugly. No one was virtuous but, because they lacked all the markers of success, were somehow less virtuous.
They had no money, no education, no fine cars, no cool clothes, no power over others but stood — for better or worse — naked for all the world to see. And they had each other.
Because we accepted them at face value, they accepted us and, through them, I learned how badly I had been lied to … about morality, about success and about human worth.
Of that which I had been taught was true, life had provided no reliable distinction between what was real and what was fiction. I gave it all up. From that age forward, I wanted no answers. If ever I were to accept a truth it would have to be far down the road and hard won.
It was not long after that, hitchhiking through Oregon, I paid a chance visit to my very first girlfriend. We had met, of all places, at a Billy Graham crusade. We sat and talked.
It seemed she was getting ready onthe morrow to be baptized into theMormon Church.
“But, you’ve already been baptized?”
She explained that this baptism would be the only one that counted and regaled me with a litany of her new faith. When she finished, I played the true devil’s advocate.
“How,” I asked, “can you accept such answers without any life experiences to back them up? By a simple act of faith, like flicking a light switch you claim to know the answers to questions which have tormented deep thinkers throughout recorded history.”
“What is there left in life to learn, where is the mystery, the magic? How can you say you’ve lived without tasting misery as well as joy, ugliness as well as beauty, betrayal as well as faithfulness and uncertainty alongside faith?”
She remained steadfast and joined the Mormon Church the next day.
Recalling these events now, I have a very clear understanding of why the answers of good men like Darrell have always leftme cold.
McGehee, a lifelong activist, settled here in 1973 and lives in Palouse with his wife, Katherine. His work life has varied from bartender to university instructor to wrecking yard owner.