In my book, I Wept by the Rivers of Babylon, I described the process of having a friend, Johnny Santa Cruz, use our friendship as a platform for converting me to a Jehovah's Witness.
That friendship cost me decades of my life in bondage to a cult.
The friendship was real and Johnny and I bonded for life. But, the religion eventually turned him into a stone silence toward me--his oldest friend.
Now he is dead and the imaginary reunion and meeting of the minds is no longer a possibility.
This makes his passing a double tragedy.
His memories were my memories. By dying he has extinguished part of my life's verifications. The bond we could have shared into our retirement years could have strengthened. Instead, they dissolved--aborted by cult pressure.
I doubt I can get a family invitation to his funeral. It would certainly be disrespectful to attend without it. So, even in a final good-bye--I am shut out of both life and death.
Johnny married when he was 20 and his wife was 16. He was rescuing her from her father. The dad was molesting his 2 daughters, you see, but the Brothers at the Kingdom Hall had advised the JW mother that Divorce was not the answer.
I was at the wedding at the Justice of the Peace in a small Texas town. Johnny's sister, Judy, pretended to be the Mother granting permission.
The marriage has lasted all these years, 1967 to 2016. He was very proud of that. His wife never graduated from High School, she dropped out. She never worked a paying job in her entire life. All her friends were JW's. It was the only life she ever knew and the only one imaginable.
Johnny and I were friends from the age of 12. All of our early memories were the SAME memory.
We called each other "Best best Buddy, lifelong pal." But that "lifelong" part was a dream.
Johnny would always prod me with JW-related statements, provoking discussion about (presumably) the Bible.
In my family, we were not religious people nor did we attend a church. I had respect--even reverence--but no emotional attachments to God or the good book. I was sort of a Nerdy intellectual kind of kid. So, we had lots of arguments--and I couldn't win those arguments even though I was using rational thinking and logic. Why?
I didn't realize at that time, we were living in two different worlds entirely! A fancy word covers the situation: "Non-overlapping magisteria."
The real world and the world of religious beliefs are different areas of inquiry, fact vs. values, so there is a difference between the "nets" over which they have "a legitimate magisterium or domain of teaching authority," and the two domains do not overlap.
So, here it is folks--my life was about to take a sharp left turn simply because I needed to be on EQUAL footing with Johnny and the only way I could think of to do that was to LEARN his magisterium and master it.
I would compare this to having a friend who is hooked on addictive drugs saying, "Just try it and see if you like it."
One snort, one injection, one high was all it took and the next 2o years would be a roller coaster ride through hell.
Johnny is dead. He won't be joining his devout parents in Paradise in all likelihood. You see, he knew how so much of Jehovah's Witness teachings had unraveled not standing the test of time. He was very angry when the Awake! magazine dropped the "generations" blurb which had been his bellwether to Armageddon.
He saw his belief system dismantled and reassembled like a Legos project.
He was highly intelligent. But he was a profoundly loyal advocated, too.
The arguments he and I shared never budged him off center--but they certainly rattled him to the core.
Today I want to salute his long marriage and his unshakeable Faith.
In the same breath, I want to shout to the world, "You were and always will be my friend--you stupid fool!"
Johnny Santa Cruz--1947 to 2016 Rest in Peace my best, best Buddy. I wish you had remained a lifelong pal.
I love you. I'm sorry you weren't allowed to love me back.