November has become the month for our annual trip back to California to visit family. It was a good thing I wasn’t concerned about running into any former JW friends because we ran into five within the first 24 hours. Seven if you count kids. They were all surprisingly cordial, if a bit careful to keep their distance.
All except for the last one, an elder’s wife. I spotted her the moment we walked into the cafe to eat breakfast. She didn’t see us at first, but my kids aren’t exactly discreet and they eventually drew her attention. We made eye contact and I gave a short wave along with what I’m sure can only be described as a cross between a tight lipped smile and a grimace. I’ll never forget how her face contorted next. First her eyebrows furrowed in confusion, then shot up in surprise and recognition as her mouth opened to greet me and a smile started to form. Then, as suddenly as it started to take shape, it dropped. All of it. Her expression, her gaze, her head. For the first time since turning my back on the JW faith I was raised in, I was shunned to my face. The facial contortions in her were disturbing and bizarre- the inner struggle between mind control and her desire to greet me was evident.
I’m sure it would have been more hurtful if it had been someone I was close with, but in this instance it just seemed petty. It’s not like I was attempting to engage in conversation or explain why the JWs aren’t the one true religion. I offered a smile and a wave and she refused to issue a common courtesy in the form of a simple greeting.
Shunning is an attempt at dehumanizing someone, with the hopes that being treated in this despicable manner will “bring the sinner to his senses”. All it did for me was reinforce how thankful I am that I am not threatened by the beliefs of others.
I’m thankful I will never be expected to treat someone like they don’t exist.
I’m thankful that no group of men will ever dictate how I am to treat my children.
I’m thankful for every difficult moment in this last year that has brought us to where we are today.
photos by Raine Chism Photography