G and F are both tremendous people, genuine and true to the core and, for JWs, exceptionally non-judgmental. They were well into adulthood before becoming Witnesses and their perspective of people has been tempered as a result, I think. I’ve known them for close to twenty years and consider them dear friends. Perhaps more importantly, as an insight into their character, they consider *me* a friend despite their knowledge of my long absence from “theocratic activity.”
Several weeks ago G (a well-known, longtime respected elder) and F invited my wife and I to their 35th wedding anniversary. A big part of me didn’t want to go despite my love of them both. Associating with a group of JWs in that type of setting tends to make my skin crawl as I didn’t look forward to the same ol’ bland conversations centered on how great it is to be a dub and out of satan’s world. But, out of respect for them... we went last night.
A few years back, they marked their 30th with a catered, black-tie affair at a fabulous ballroom and about two hundred people attended. This time, they wanted a more intimate dinner at home, so invited only their closest, bestest friends. Imo, about 15 too-many people showed up at their modest home—the place was packed with about 40 - 50 before it was all over with—despite the fact that several couples I fully expected to see where not in attendance. Quite a few were there who I’d never seen before as were several I’ve known for years. One of the latter was Bernie.
Being among the first to arrive, Bernie and I spent time together looking over a couple of G and F’s photo albums, albums containing pictures of our hosts from the early days. It was clear in looking at those old photos again that G, back in the day, was one you didn’t want to mess with. Bernie knew the pre-JW G and confirmed my suspicions. When I quizzed him about G, all he'd do is chuckle, shake his head and say that “well, let’s just say that G had a reputation.”
It’s true. In nearly every photo, G had a menacing presence about him that virtually jumped off the paper, even though most of the photos were taken in social settings among friends and at nightspots – places where you’d expect a bit of joviality. Even in the highschool graduation photo displayed on the mantel, G’s eyes said, “Beware. Approach with caution.” He didn’t look happy in ANY of the scores of pictures I saw.
After an extraordinary dinner prepared by two professionals, several were asked to share a couple of thoughts about our hosts, events they shared over the years. One of the last to speak was Bernie, who retold to the assembled a story he’d told me earlier in the evening when we sat together looking over the photos....
- I hadn’t seen G and F for years after losing contact with them when I moved to L.A. I was on the way back home after a business convention in Atlanta and stopped through to see my mother. While here, I wanted to see my old chums G and F, too. I finally found their number and asked, “When can we get together?”
“Well, I’ve got a meeting tomorrow. Why don’t you join me?” G said. It was a circuit assembly, and even though I wouldn’t have known what it was even if he’d told me, I accepted his invitation. I’d “visited” a lady friend the Friday evening before and so “slept through the first half” of Saturday’s session, but I enjoyed spending time with my old friends. It was hard for me to believe the man G had become. It was nothing short of a miracle. I kept expecting the old language, and the old G, to slip out. It never did and I wanted to know why.
I’d never had time for the Witnesses when they came to my door but seeing G changed all that. The very next time they came by I told them, “I have a friend. Years ago he was not a nice man, not a man you’d ever cross. He studied with you people and now he’s a different man. I want to know why.”
And here I am.
I didn’t know G years ago, of course, but I can say that now he’s a very jovial man – finds something funny in many, many things – even in himself – as was seen when others told of humorous events of the past wherein he was the butt of the joke. As his eyes turn to slits and crows feet appear at the corners of his eyes, his oft’ heard hearty laugh is infectious. No mistake about it: He’s a happy man.
I admit: As jaded and cynical as I am, even *I* was moved by Bernie’s words. Bernie spent many years in vibrant S. California building a very successful business. He quietly oozes sophistication. He’s not a showy person and blends into every single crowd he’s in, but is very articulate and smart. Watching Bernie as he told his story, knowing who it was coming from, I found his very humble “testimony” touching. Knowing what he knew about G and the miracle performed on him by The Truth™, how could he NOT be moved by it – want some of it for himself?
Later, at our urging, G gave a testimony of his own. He told of coming into the truth and loss of family members who had no interest in joining up with ‘Jehovah’s People.’ Specifically, he spoke of his two brothers, one who took his own life a decade ago. As G spoke of the beauty that was The Truth™, his comments turned to two men, two JWs, who’d come to replace the brothers he had lost. He lost it emotionally - bent nearly to the floor behind the people he was standing behind - and could not continue. The room fell silent and eyes watered all around, mine included. We moved on.
It was a good evening. With a nice mix of cool jazz CDs playing in the background, I’d reconnected, if only briefly, with a handful of old friends I hadn’t seen in years and had a very fine meal, besides. I also saw – again – the simple beauty that the JW existence offers a wide range of people. For good or ill, its appeal is powerful, offering things of value to many who feel a void that The Truth™ seems to fill.
I won’t be accepting the invitations to the meeting this a.m. (a prominent Bethel elder’s in town and will be wowing a packed Hall, I’m sure), but I’m glad I went to see my friends last night. Like I said, it was a good evening.