Photo: Freeimages.com – Prashant Jambunathan
People knock on my door. They try to sell me things, ask for donations, or impart some sort of spiritual wisdom.
One morning, the doorbell rang as I tidied the kitchen. I opened the door. Two well-dressed people kindly presented themselves.
“Hi there,” a curly haired, soft-spoken gentleman said. “We were speaking with your neighbour—”
“Yes,” I smiled, waiting for the inevitable pitch.
“We’re in the neighbourhood,” he said, “providing some education.”
“Oh, okay,” I replied, trying to keep an open mind.
“Do you believe in life after death?” he asked.
Do I really want to engage in this philosophical discussion? I thought.
“I absolutely believe in life after death,” I responded, boldly.
Soft-spoken man, emboldened by my response, replied: “And where do you think we go after we die?”
It’s in my nature to wonder about things. To contemplate our existence. As long as I can remember, I’ve always thought about our reality, purpose. Why are we here? You know, Philosophy 101 stuff. It takes up a lot of my brain’s idle time.
“After we die,” I exclaimed, “we go somewhere we don’t understand, then we see our loved ones.”
“Do you read the Bible?” soft-spoken asked.
“I have read parts of the Bible,” I said, “but I’m not a religious person.”
“That’s okay,” he answered, “most people aren’t. Like I said, we like to educate people.” He handed me a pamphlet titled, Can the dead really live again? and went on about resurrection and God.
“Did you know,” he continued, “that humans used to live a lot longer?”
“No, I didn’t,” I replied.
“In fact,” soft-spoken said, “Methuselah, the oldest person ever, lived to be 969 years old.”
“Nine hundred and sixty years?” I blurted, wide-eyed. “That’s a long time!”
“Nine hundred and sixty-nine years, actually,” he corrected. “Today, we only live to seventy, eighty. Something has happened to humans these past six thousand years. Why?”
“That is very interesting,” I volunteered, nodding my head.
Soft-spoken pointed out some items in the pamphlet, namely about creation, Jehovah, the Bible, then motioned to a web address. “You can visit this website, to learn more. It’s the most translated site on the web.”
“Thank you,” I politely answered.
“May I ask your name?” he questioned.
“My name’s Jeff. And your name is …?”
He gave his name, and that of his canvassing partner, extended his hand for a shake, thanked me for my time. I must admit, the Jehovah’s Witnesses I’ve encountered are always very polite. I grasped his hand and said goodbye.
I watched them walk to my neighbour’s house, continuing their education mission. I imagined 969-year-old Methuselah roaming the Earth before the Flood. Did his knees hurt? Was his back sore? How was his hearing?
But I’m a very curious person.
So I googled “Methuselah” to find out more about the biblical figure. First thing I saw was a picture of Anthony Hopkins, who played the character in the 2014 film, Noah. I learned Methuselah is part of the genealogy linking Adam to Noah.
My Jehovah’s Witnesses visitors got me thinking. About our myths and stories we pass down through generations. I truly believe we are all connected in some shape or form. That what we cannot understand is generally assigned to some form of higher power. That we need to derive meaning from life. Otherwise, what's the point of it all?
I recently re-read Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. Mr. Hawking attempts to explain, in layman’s terms, scientific and philosophical origins of the universe. Touching on the Big Bang, space and time, relativity and quantum theory, I found the read fascinating. It begins with a folk story about an old lady heckling a scientist giving a lecture on astronomy. The lady discounts the scientist’s expertise and insists the world is a flat plate, resting on a tortoise. When the scientist, smugly smiling, questions the lady as to what the tortoise is standing on, she replies: “You’re very clever … But it’s turtles all the way down!”
The fact that Jehovah’s Witnesses canvas my neighbourhood telling stories about 969-year-old Methuselah is not much different than telling my children to believe in angels. We tell stories to foster the spirit of something deemed important. Tales of Methuselah, an infinite stack of turtles, or a potential Theory of Everything, are all stories that attempt to explain our lives.
My visitors that morning tried to spread something they deemed important. While I didn't agree with many of their views, they did get me to think about what it means to be here, alive, in this world. For that, I was thankful.
Then I googled how to live to the ripe old age of 969.