This morning as I sat reading the news and shaking my head in dismay at the dozen examples of human folly it presented, someone came to the front door. There’s nothing unusual about that… the postman often rings the bell so he can tell me a corny joke while delivering the mail. And we get a lot of sales people here… often, inexplicably, trying to sell us services we already use. “Sorry to bother you, sir”, they always begin, “but are you an Eircom customer?” Trying to hide my exasperation from the person in the Eircom jacket, I reply “Yes I am, actually”. They then smile, tell me to have a nice day, and move on to the next door. Airtricity do it every couple of months too.
I guarantee it would be more cost effective, in terms of time spent and numbers of households targeted, to issue their sales teams with a simple print-out of addresses of existing customers. It would also put an end to the slow erosion of my goodwill towards my service providers that makes it more likely I’ll listen to rival sales teams when they arrive.
Anyway, this morning when I opened the door I was greeted not by the avuncular postie, nor by a corporate wind-breaker wrapped around a human hard-sell. Instead there were two women with the kind of broad, earnest smiles that serve as a warning that you’re about to have a conversation in which biblical quotations will feature prominently. “We’re sorry to bother you”, said the younger of the two. It was early enough that my brain hadn’t yet kicked fully into gear and I wondered briefly if they learned their script from the corporate sales folk. It was only later I realised it was obviously the other way round. She continued in that measured, reasonable tone that so often masks deep unreason. “I’m sure you have your own beliefs”, she said.
I nodded. “Yes I do”, I said quite emphatically. She thrust a leaflet into my hand. “Well, we’re Jehovah’s witnesses and we thought you might like to take some time to consider what the bible has to say…”
It’s at this point in any encounter with a religious fundamentalist that the option to engage or disengage presents itself. On another day I might have spent quite a while trying to patiently explain why I felt so troubled by their presence on my doorstep… always knowing that it was water off a duck’s back. But this morning I just wasn’t in the mood. I shook my head and handed back the leaflet. “I’ve read the bible as it happens. And I just don’t accept that your interpretation is more valid than my own. Thank you and goodbye.” Their smiles didn’t change a single iota. They thanked me for my time and walked away.
A little later I glanced out of my upstairs window and saw eight or ten extremely clean and smartly dressed people standing outside, clearly comparing their experiences of my street. Where once they would have genuinely angered me, now my overwhelming emotion was one of sadness. They were trapped in a cage not of their own making. And so are damn near all of us. Theirs is just easier to see than most.