All of life is bittersweet. One single moment can contain all the love and joy in the world, along with every bit of grief and sadness.
I was sitting yesterday in a Starbuck's waiting for my girlfriend D to arrive. And out the window, I saw him. He had just come out of a restaurant across the way that is under construction. White shirt and paints, covered in drywall dust. He'd had silver gray hair as long as I could remember, but his skin always reminded me that he was younger than his hair made him look. He was talking and laughing with some co-workers. I could hear his laugh in my head. He always made me laugh.
It was M. One of the Jehovah's Witness elders I'd known since my Mom first started taking us to the Kingdom Hall, when I was five. M was one of the good ones. Not far in age from my own father, I looked at him as a second Dad.
I remember at some point in Grade School, I and three other JW girls, including S, who would later become my best JW friend and, later still, scorn me for my decision to leave, formed this club called OSK (our version of the Awww...how cute sound) all to do with how much we loved babies and kids. We would fawn over the babies at the Kingdom Hall and make this OSK sound whenever we saw a cute one. When we were lucky enough to babysit one of the kids in the congregation we would get together at the JW meetings to talk about our experiences.
We also had a secret greeting code. We would touch our fingers to the tips of our noses whenever we saw each other. M noticed this happening one meeting and asked us about it. We told him it was our secret greeting. At the next meeting, Mike showed up with his finger pointed to the tip of his nose. And from that moment, he was one of us. Every time we saw him, it was a race to see who would get their finger to their nose first.
I recall one of the Kingdom Halls we were in when I was young. It's a double Kingdom Hall so two congregations can meet at the same time in separate rooms. Sometimes M's congregation would be meeting across the hall from ours and he would sneak into the back of my meeting and stand there with his finger to his nose until I'd turn around to catch him standing there. Then we'd start snickering. A few times he'd be our visiting speaker on a Sunday morning and he'd stand on the platform giving his talk and stare right at me, casually brushing his finger across his nose and smiling, leaving me in stitches in the audience.
On the day of my JW baptism at the age of 15, M was there with his finger to his nose. On my Wedding day, the same. Five years ago, at my last JW event, a friend's wedding, there was M, finger to his nose. He'd beaten me to it this time, which just made me laugh more.
Yesterday, when I saw him out the Starbuck's window, I felt this rush of intense love. There was no thought of what would happen if he shunned me or how I'd answer any questions about my current JW status. There was just love. I flew out of the Starbuck's and walked towards him, my finger on my nose. As soon as he saw me, his finger touched his nose and we both started laughing, tears welling up in our eyes. We embraced tightly, kissed on the cheek and just stood staring at each other for a moment.
M asked me where I lived and worked now, but didn't ask what JW congregation I was in. He must know I'm no longer one of them. In that moment, it didn't seem to matter. We laughed about our secret greeting having lasted all this time. He told me how now, S' daughters, the children I was Auntie to, one of which I witnessed being born, have now taken up the tradition. I could only imagine what those girls look like as it's been so long since I saw them. And it pains me that I am missing seeing them grow. I'm missing those moments of seeing the similarities between them and S and the moments of our shared past. I'm missing giving them advice and steering them to be strong, vibrant young women. I'm missing the moments. All those missed moments.
As M and I embraced to say goodbye, I brought my hand up and brushed his cheek. Somehow I felt as if I was now the adult and he was the child. And I wondered when that change had happened. And in my heart, there was this deep ache in realizing that I may never see this man again, never again see his face smile with his finger up to his nose.
I know that my leaving the Jehovah's Witnesses was the best choice I could make. The only choice I would ever be able to live with in my soul. But damn, it just hurts so much some days.