By Ian Haynes
In 1951 I was born into a loving, though somewhat nominal, Christian family, and dedicated to God in a Baptist Church. Growing up with my sister, we occasionally attended Baptist and Anglican services with mum and dad. Every night, before going to sleep, mum taught us to pray: “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, stoop to hear a little child.” God was good, and I always believed in him. As a young boy I would look at a picture I had of Jesus dying on the cross. With tears rolling down my cheeks, I asked him: “Why did they do that to you Jesus? They shouldn’t have done that to you!” In my teenage years my friends and I would sometimes return from nights out on the town in deep discussion about God and creation verses evolution. Anthony would inevitably mock me for believing that God had created us. We’d then talk about such things with Graham’s Jehovah’s Witness mother into the early hours.
Graham, however, hated such “fire-side chats” with his mother because he loathed his Witness upbringing and had no intention of resuming his former life. Rather, girls, guitars and rock music, along with other “worldly” interests, took precedence. Scarred by his past, he half expected to be killed by God at Armageddon in 1975, so my guess was that life for him was too short to waste! Graham was an intelligent, sensitive friend; an artist, who played guitar and wrote poetry, which was later published. As a young boy, he’d been my school pal, but he’d been forbidden by his mother to be my friend outside of school hours. This reduced him to tears. I can see him now begging his mum to let him play with me while she stoutly refused, telling him that he already had a friend at the Kingdom Hall. When he said that he didn’t like “that boy”, his mother rebuked him for talking in such a way about “a brother.” His mother explained to me that she had nothing against me, but that Witness children were like the Jews who restricted their friendships to their own community. She suggested that I could always see more of Graham if my parents allowed me to go to their meetings at the Kingdom Hall. That idea didn’t interest me in the least! At school Graham was known as a pacifist. Often I’d start fun-fights with him, but my rough play made him cry. He always forgave me and remained my friend. Nevertheless, after a time, he withstood my challenges and left me full of guilt. When I implored him to punch me hard in the face as a just punishment for having been so horrible, he resolutely refused. Dear Graham.
Despite our history as friends and Graham’s aversion to his Witness past, as a teenager I honestly enjoyed talking to Graham’s mother. Perhaps our talks touched that inexplicable inner hunger which from childhood had eluded identification. In search of this elusive desirable otherness, Graham and I, now free spirits, “dropped out and did our own thing”, hitch-hiking and camping in southern Ireland for several months. For some reason I sensed that this trip, unlike others we’d known, would forever change me. We traveled through all types of weather, played our guitars in bars and camped near lakes and seashores. Returning home, however, was totally devastating, for I had lost the love of my life: a most beautiful Irish girl; all that remained was the emptiness of a hippy-type life style with all its impenetrable questions: What was the point of our existence? Why had love itself hurt so much? Why had the beauty we’d found on our travels made me sense that our world had lost its meaning? Surely we were meant to love each other within a context of beauty and dignity, mirrored by the kind country folk we’d met who gave so freely yet lived so simply in their little white crofts beside peat fueled fires. With the majestically beautiful mountains, the surrounding scented greenery, the clear azure seas -, all this – and so much more – had echoed creation’s original intention and beckoned its return. The magnetism of Ireland was immense and my heart ached inconsolably.
Within this haunting ambiance, the impending paradise of which Graham’s mother spoke, sat comfortably. I so wanted to believe that it was true. Eventually I accepted, in 1970, the offer of a free “Bible study” (which in reality turned out to be a Watchtower book study) with Don, a jovial “mature brother” and Barry, who used to go to the same school as me. Barry had acquired a bit of a rebel reputation at school before his re-conversion back into the local Witness congregation, so I especially looked forward to meeting him. He became a fond friend, with a good sense of humour. This, together with an indelible experience which calmed my anguished heart, helped in my decision to eventually get baptised as a Jehovah’s Witness. Our Kingdom Hall was in Hainault Essex (England), and the congregation there seemed to be full of overwhelmingly friendly people. Attractive girls smiled eagerly, but the memory of my Irish love remained, and my loss of her had left me determined not to hurt as I had been hurt. Anyway, God, not girls, came first!