When a couple of roving evangelicals showed up at the back door of our apartment, that door being their best chance since the front door required a buzz-in and there was no intercom for them to use, my mother invited them in. They sat in the two soft chairs. My mother sat in our one nod to modernity, the Scandinavian Design chair with the teak arms. I sat on the floor, protecting my toys from those big feet.
The conversation started with a question, “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior?” which seemed like a funny place to start. Weren’t you supposed to talk about the weather first or inquire about how the other person’s day was going, or tell them what a nice little girl they had there?
My mother had a quiet voice, and was an excessively polite person, which may explain why the two skinny men in the black suits and black ties and black hats were sitting in the living room. I narrowed my eyes.
“Well,” my mother said, “that’s quite a question, isn’t it? Tell me why you ask.” Clearly this wasn’t going to go by the script the visitors imagined: dramatic question, confession, conversion, pamphlets presented, subscription entered, out the door.
The lead evangelical leaned forward and tried to get back to his preferred narrative. “We are only here to help you. Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?”
“Well, I appreciate any offer of help, I really do. People should be kind to each other. But I’m unsure why you need to know such a personal answer as that?”
The lead guy shot a glance at his underling, probably an evangelical-in-training, and switched tactics. He assumed a patient tone. I didn’t like it, or him, or the interruption of my play schedule.
“This is of the highest importance, or we wouldn’t have gone to the trouble of coming to see you,” he said. “This is about eternity. You are concerned about eternity, aren’t you?” He thought he had her.
“Actually, I’ve thought a lot about that,” she said. “And I am much more interested in what we do while we’re here on earth than later on.” She gave him a couple of beats to allow him to prepare his next volley. “I’m curious. Are you saying you came to see specifically me, today, on purpose? I wasn’t just the one who decided to open the door?”
“God sent us of course. It is never an accident when a message of salvation arrives,” he replied.
The next 45 minutes went to my mother explaining in her lovely determined voice that to her, any God worth the title would never allow a good person who did her best through life burn in hell, because what would be the point? To have a heaven populated by only those who had signed off on a particular religion’s requirement and didn’t care about the rest of us?
She was earnest, respectful, just wanting to shed her own light on the matter. She was curious to hear their answers, and kind. But her conversation was difficult for our visitors.
The two gents made valiant efforts to shame, frighten, and out-talk her. But I’d give it to her in a TKO at about minute 42. Then began a shuffle of papers, of feet, and escape. She took the pamphlets, declined the subscription, and wished them a fine day.
She closed the door and sat down at the desk to study the pamphlets. “I don’t like it very well when one person tries to make other people agree with him, just because he thinks he’s right,” she said. “But I’m sure they meant well.”
I went back to the metal dollhouse with the family of four and complete bathroom. But I’d taken in the lesson. Imagine how ready I was for the fellows who would accost me in the student union just a few years later to ask the very same question
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