A random encounter with religious zealots

Friday afternoon, 2 PM.

In my current frame of mind, some things strike me as perhaps more bizarre than they would have normally. This is one such incident.

After vacation, arriving back from vacation only to turn around to have to head to Ohio for a funeral, and having to be in the operating room on Thursday, Friday was the first day since mid-August when I had very little scheduled. Consequently, it allowed me the first opportunity to sit down and figure out exactly what the heck I needed to do to get back to work and to get my research rolling. I met with my postdoc and had him show me all the data that he had gathered in the nearly three weeks that I had been gone. (Three weeks? Holy crap! I’ve never been away from the office and lab that long since I first took this job eight years ago. Before this, two weeks represented the longest time I’ve ever been away.)

Fortunately, it turned out that one of the two partners of mine whom I consider as much friends as colleagues also had a light day, with his clinic finishing around 1 PM. Consequently, we decided to do something we rarely do anymore: Go out to a leisurely lunch at a real restaurant. On our walk back to the cancer institute, we encountered them. A woman was approaching on our left, holding a sign; a man was approaching on the right, a pile of leaflets in his hand. Trapped! There was no way to avoid them without heading out into the busy street (something I was tempted to do). Then I saw what the sign said:

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Great. Just what I needed.

So, as I often do when encountering such people, I hunkered down and tried not to make eye contact with them. Unfortunately, I was on the right, closest to the man handing out leaflets. As expected, the man held out a leaflet to me as I passed.

“No thanks,” I said, as I continued by them, the better to allow them to do whatever it is that they thought would please God but (I hoped) while leaving me alone.

As I made the transition from having this man in front of me to having him just behind me, he spoke again. It was in a low voice, but it was completely understandable. I was not imagining it.

“You’re going to hell,” the man informed me.

That was exactly the wrong thing to say to me in my mood at the time, my having just two days prior listened to a plethora of the usual platitudes at a funeral, none of which gave me any comfort at all. Unfortunately, I was not in a good enough frame of mind to come up with the pithy, devastating response that he deserved. The best that I could come up with was to turn around to him and say:

“I AM Roman Catholic, asshole.;

That wasn’t exactly my most shining moment, nor was my response exactly brilliant repartee, I know. In contrast, on the blog, I have as much time as I want to take to think about what I write. It also neglected the fact that I’m presently about as lapsed a Catholic as can be imagined, if you know what I mean. However, he didn’t need to know that. Besides, being a Roman Catholic has always struck me in at least one way as being a bit like being Jewish. Once a Catholic, always a Catholic, as even those who have long been away from the Church still tend to identify themselves as Catholic, even when it doesn’t make much sense to do so anymore. For me, this tendency pops up most unexpectedly at the strangest times.

The man kept walking away from me harassing others on the street, giving no sign that he saw me, content that he was saved, that I was not, and that anyone who failed to heed him would find themselves in the eternal flames after their deaths.