"Shawn, is there some powerful event in your life you always wanted to see, but never did, and now you no longer have the chance to see it? It's gone forever? Anything like that?"
This morning - 4:30 in the morning, to be exact - I again rode in the backseat of the driver I get once a month, a devout Jehovah Witness who has told me half a dozen times that the answers I'm seeking are available in some literature he has with him. Do I want to take a look?
He's persistent, with the voice of a seasoned hypnotist. He sounds like someone you'd find behind a radio mic on an overnight talk show, not behind a wheel. After taking his literature the first time - in an attempt to escape the car - I've declined every other time. I never agree or disagree with him, offering up only an occasional mumble or, "Yeah, that's something." A month ago he veered from asking about the egg sandwich I bought at a local diner into talk about the Garden of Eden and the evils of processed food and how that all relates to the soul and our hunger to be filled with God's word. It was like being driven around by a born again Morgan Spurlock. In the end, it always comes down to the end: End Times. This is it. We're in the middle of it. And am I ready? Perfect conversation for 4:30 in the morning.
Today we rode in silence for five minutes. Finally, as we approached the George Washington Bridge, he asked the question about the hypothetical powerful event I wish I had seen.
I thought about it. While also thinking about what he'd want to hear, something that could allow him to launch into his sales pitch.
The space shuttle. I always thought it'd be cool to watch a space shuttle launch. Plus, I thought this would give him a decent opening, what with the inevitable talk about the heavens. It was a perfect setup, a great assist. I was part John Stockton, part heathen.
"Interesting," he replied. "Such power. Imagine that power, the raw power of watching that, the fire and the rockets, sending it into space. It must be an awesome experience."
"And now imagine that every day in your life, the power of Jesus Christ can come over you, wave after wave, just like watching that shuttle launch."
Tougher to imagine but okay.
From there it turned into the normal talk. Like always, by the time we crossed the GW, he was well into tales of the impending apocalypse. There will be the righteous and the wrong and I'd better figure out whose side I'm on. Right now, it pains him to say, it doesn't look good for me.
"It's really all there. If you look at the last 80, 90 years, you can see that there's been so much suffering, the signs are all there that we are nearing the end."
That's one argument - among others - I don't really see, though I don't voice that opinion, not while he's still behind the wheel, holding both our fates in his hands. The 20th century saw horrific wars and the new one hasn't started off all that great. But were the 1800s a time of total peace and love? How about the 1700s? No war or famine or greed during those times. You have to stretch to make an argument that the world today is somehow worse than it ever has been. Does he really believe that? Is he that pessimistic about the end of the world? Or, to be more accurate, is he really that optimistic about the end of the world?
"Something to think about," I said as we pulled into my building. I have a feeling he's going to ultimately be disappointed. Five hundred years from now, there will probably be some driver telling his passenger that they're in the end times and he'd better repent before it's too late.
"Shawn, did you get a chance to take a look at that literature I gave you before?"
"Well, thank you for listening and enjoy your day."
I did. And the sun will also rise tomorrow. And the next day. Much to my driver's regret.