IT'S EARLY SUNDAY MORNING. Out near Ocean Beach a woman settles into my backseat.
“How are you doing today?” I ask.
“Fine, thank you,” she says, rather quietly, as though she’s not quite yet fully awake. “And how are you doing?”
“I’m alive and kicking.”
“Alive and kicking,” she echoes. “Me, too -- and I’m on my way to church to thank God for that.”
“All right,” I say.
She asks, “Do you have a religion?”
“No, I really don’t.”
“So I guess you don’t really know who God is?”
If my physical reaction to this comment were to be replayed in slow motion, I imagine that it would look almost identical to a slow-motion clip of someone who has just been hit in the back of the head by a bullet -- Kennedy in Dallas comes to mind. My shoulders slump, my head goes back and then snaps forward again.
“Now why would you say that?” I believe that I am able to ask this without anger, but undoubtedly a trace of hurt must have crept into my voice.
Immediately she says, “Oh, how rude of me! I’m sorry. We’re really all one family. I didn’t mean that the way it sounded.”
“It’s alright,” I say. “I do agree about the one family. Everyone has their own ideas about God -- I certainly do. But I was raised in a particular religion, and I was taught that it was the only right religion. If we’re all one family, and if between us we’ve come up with hundreds of religions, how can there be only one right one? I could just never understand that theory.”
It’s a short ride. When we pull up in front of her church she hands me $6 for the $4.20 fare, wishes me a “blesst” day, and gets out. I try to keep my eyes on my waybill, try to not look at the church building that she's now walking toward. It's not important, I tell myself, just what brand of religion is practiced inside. In my opinion exclusivity -- "WE are the one true church!" -- is a cardinal (and perhaps only a subliminal) tenet of most every religion. I try not to look, but my body betrays me. I lean down to where I can scan the building, and the first thing I notice is the lettering above the door: "Kingdom Hall of the Jehovah’s Witnesses."
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