I Was Aimless but Found a Purpose in Life
IMAGINE my dismay and discomfort very early one morning when I was awakened unexpectedly by two burly men searching the bedroom. My mother stood by, pale and helpless, obviously in a state of shock. The men were detectives.
Immediately I knew what they were looking for. Although I put on a bold, defiant front, deep inside I was afraid. I realized that a police dragnet was closing in on our gang of juvenile thieves in New Jersey, U.S.A. The detectives gruffly told me to get dressed and then bundled me off to police headquarters for questioning.
How did I get into this miserable situation? It began quite early in life. While still in my mid-teens, I already considered myself a hardened juvenile delinquent. During the 1960’s, many youths thought it “cool” to be a rebel without a cause, and I agreed wholeheartedly. Thus, at 16 years of age, I found myself hanging out at a neighborhood poolroom, having been expelled from high school. Here I became involved with a gang of youths that were committing burglaries. After joining them in some relatively minor jobs, I began to enjoy the excitement and suspense and actually found each experience quite thrilling.
So began a nine-month spree of breaking and entering. As a gang, we mainly concentrated on professional offices where large sums of cash were often held. The more burglaries we committed without getting caught, the bolder we became. Finally, we decided to rob a branch of the county bank.
For the first time, things started to go wrong. Although we gained entry into the bank without any difficulty, we spent a frustrating night inside because we were only able to break into the cashiers’ drawers. A more serious problem was that our bank break-in brought the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) into the case. With the FBI on our trail, it was not long before we were all arrested.
The Sad Effects of Wrongdoing
I was personally charged with 78 burglaries and suffered the embarrassment of having the details of each one read aloud to the court. This, added to all the publicity about our crimes in the local newspaper, had a devastating effect on my parents. But the humiliation and embarrassment I was causing them did not concern me much at that time. I was sentenced to an indefinite term in a state reformatory, which could have meant my being in custody until I turned 21 years of age. However, largely as a result of the efforts of a skilled lawyer, I was transferred to a special reform school.
Although I had avoided a prison term, a stipulation was that I had to be removed from the community and from all my former associates. To this end, I was enrolled in a private school in Newark, one concentrating on problem kids like me. Additionally, I was required to have weekly sessions with a psychologist in order to receive professional help. All these conditions were met by my parents—at heavy financial sacrifice to themselves.
Efforts to Reform
No doubt as a result of our well-publicized trial, an editorial appeared in our hometown newspaper entitled, “On Sparing the Rod.” This article was critical of the seemingly soft treatment the gang had received. The comments of this editorial, for the first time, got through to my conscience. So I cut out that clipping from the newspaper and vowed to myself that someday, in some way, I would make up for all the suffering, embarrassment, and expense I had caused my parents.
One way, I thought, to prove to my parents that I could change would be to graduate from high school with my original class. I began to study as I had never studied before in my life. The result was that at the end of the school year, when, in the presence of my probation officer, I appeared again before the judge who had sentenced me, his stern face broke into a smile as he noted that I had achieved a B-plus average each term. So now the way was open for me to return to my old high school, and I graduated the following year.
My Aimlessness Continues
By now it was 1966, and while many of my classmates headed off to the war in Vietnam, I went off to Concord College in West Virginia. At college I was introduced to drugs, peace rallies, and a whole new culture that had me questioning traditional values. I was looking for something, but I did not know what. When the Thanksgiving holidays arrived, instead of going home, I hitchhiked south across the Blue Ridge Mountains to Florida.
I had never traveled much before, and I was having a wonderful time seeing so many new and different places—that is, until Thanksgiving Day, when I ended up in the Daytona Beach jail for vagrancy. I was too ashamed to contact my parents, but the prison authorities did. Once again, my father made arrangements to pay a stiff fine rather than let me serve a prison sentence.
I did not stay at college after that. Instead, with one lone suitcase and a newly awakened yearning for travel, I took off on the road again, hitchhiking aimlessly up and down the eastern seaboard of the United States and working at odd jobs to support myself. My parents hardly ever knew where I was, although from time to time I would visit them. To my surprise they always seemed pleased to see me, but I could not settle down.
Now that I was no longer at college, I lost my student classification, which granted deferment from military service. My draft status now became 1-A, and it was just a matter of time until I would be called up for induction into the military. The thought of regimentation and the loss of my new freedom was unthinkable. So I decided to leave the country by ship. In the process a new career opportunity opened up for me. Could this be my life’s real purpose at last?
Life at Sea as a Mercenary
An old friend of our family was a captain in the United States merchant marine. He told me about a recently instituted training program for marine engineers. I was readily accepted into a condensed two-year program, which had the dual benefits of deferment from military duty and prospects of a marine engineering degree. I graduated with a diploma in 1969 and signed on as a third-class engineering officer on my first ship in San Francisco. We immediately sailed for Vietnam with a cargo of ammunition. The trip was uneventful, and I signed off that ship when we reached Singapore.
In Singapore I signed on with a runaway flagship, so called because it hired all nonunion labor off the docks. This ship was used to run coastwise in Vietnam, from Cam Ranh Bay in the south to Da Nang to the north, near the demilitarized zone. Here the echoing boom of relentless bombing never ceased. However, financially this route was beneficial, and with war-risk and occasional attack bonuses whenever under direct fire, I found myself earning more than $35,000 a year as a war mercenary. In spite of this new affluence, I still felt aimless and wondered what life was all about—where was I heading?
A Glimmer of Meaning to Life
After one particularly frightening attack from enemy fire, Albert, my boiler attendant, began telling me how God was going to bring peace to the earth one day soon. I pricked up my ears at this unusual information. When we next sailed back to Singapore, Albert informed me that he had been one of Jehovah’s Witnesses but was no longer active. So together we tried to locate the local Witnesses in Singapore. No one seemed to be able to help us, but the night just before we sailed, Albert found a Watchtower magazine in the lobby of a hotel. It had an address stamped on it. We did not have time to check it out, however, for the next morning we sailed for Sasebo, Japan, where the ship was scheduled to go into dry dock for two weeks.
There we paid off the crew, and Albert went his way. But only a week later, I was surprised to receive a telegram from him telling me that a convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses was being held in Sasebo that coming weekend. I decided to go and see what this convention was all about.
That day—August 8, 1970—will always stick in my mind. I arrived at the convention site by taxi, stepping out into the midst of hundreds of Japanese, all immaculately dressed. Though most of them could not speak any English, it seemed they all wanted to shake my hand. I had never seen anything like this before, and despite not understanding a word of the program in Japanese, I decided that I would go again the next day—just to see if I would experience the same greeting again. I did!
We signed on a new crew and a week later were back at sea again, steaming for Singapore. The first thing I did on arrival was to take a taxi to the address stamped on the Watchtower magazine. A friendly woman came out of the house and asked if she could be of any help. I showed her the address on The Watchtower, and she immediately invited me in. I then met her husband and learned that they were missionaries from Australia, Norman and Gladys Bellotti. I explained how I had got their address. They made me extremely welcome and answered many of my questions, and I left with a shopping bag full of Bible literature. Over the next few months, sailing coastwise in Vietnam, I read many of those books, including The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life.
Now, for the first time in my life, I felt a sense of real purpose and direction. On the next trip back to Singapore, I resigned from the ship.
A Disappointing Homecoming
For the first time also, I really felt like going home. And so a few weeks later, I arrived back home very excited, wanting to tell my folks all about Jehovah’s Witnesses. They did not share my enthusiasm. This was understandable, for my behavior did not help. I had only been home for a few weeks when, in a fit of temper, I smashed up a local nightclub. I recovered consciousness in a jail cell.
By now I was beginning to believe that there was no real hope of my ever reforming and getting control of my violent temper. Maybe I was always going to be a rebel without a cause. I did not feel that I could stay at home any longer. I had to get away. So within a few days, I booked passage on a Norwegian cargo vessel bound for England.
England and Drama School
I enjoyed being in England, but employment was the problem. So I decided to audition for various drama schools, and to my surprise I was accepted at The London School of Dramatic Art. My two years in London were spent drinking heavily, socializing, and, of course, taking drugs of all kinds.
I suddenly decided I would like to make another visit to see my family back in the United States. But can you imagine how my dramatic appearance must have startled them this time? I wore a black cape with two golden lion heads joined by a gold chain at the neck, a red velvet waistcoat, and black velvet trousers with leather trim tucked into knee-high boots. Was it any wonder that my parents were obviously not impressed and that I felt completely out of place in their conservative surroundings! So I returned to England, where in 1972 I received a diploma in dramatic art. Now I had achieved another goal. But still the nagging, recurring question, Where do I go from here? I still felt the need for a real purpose in life.
Aimlessness Finally Ending
Not long after this, I at last began to feel some stability coming into my life. It began with a friendship with my neighbor Caroline. She was a schoolteacher from Australia and was a conventional, steady person—just the opposite of my personality. We had been friends for two years without any romantic attachment. Caroline then left for America for three months, and because of our good friendship, I arranged for her to stay with my parents for several weeks. They probably wondered why she would have anything to do with a character like me.
Soon after Caroline left, I told my friends I was also going home, and they gave me a big send-off. But instead of going back to America, I went only as far as South Kensington, London, where I rented a basement apartment and telephoned the branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses in London. I had come to realize what course my life should take. Within a week a delightful married couple visited me and immediately arranged for a regular Bible study with me. Because of the Witness publications I had already read, I was now quite keen and asked for two studies each week. Seeing my enthusiasm, Bob soon invited me to the Kingdom Hall, and it was not long before I was attending all the weekly meetings.
When I found out that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not smoke, I decided to quit the habit immediately. But what about my appearance? I did not want to feel out of place anymore, so I bought a dress shirt, a tie, and a suit. I soon qualified to share in the house-to-house preaching activity—and although quite nervous at first, I came to enjoy it.
Caroline was in for a big surprise when she got back, I thought. This turned out to be quite an understatement! She could not believe the change in me over such a short time—in my grooming and appearance and in so many other ways. I explained how my Bible studies had helped me and invited her also to have a Bible study. Apprehensive at first, she finally agreed, stipulating that she would only study with me. I was delighted to see how quickly she responded, and it was not long before she began to appreciate the truth of the Bible.
After a few months, Caroline decided to return to Australia, and she resumed her Bible study in Sydney. I remained in London until I could get baptized, which I did seven months later. Now I wanted to go home to the United States again and see all my family. But this time I was determined to get it right!
Homecoming With a Difference
My bewildered folks wanted to know what was going on this time—I looked too respectable! But I was glad now to feel really at home. Although my parents naturally wondered about my dramatic change, they were tactful and responded with their usual kindness and tolerance. In the months that followed, I had the privilege of sharing a study of the Bible with them. I started a study with my two older sisters, who doubtless had also been influenced by my changed life-style. Yes, this was a real homecoming!
In August 1973, I followed Caroline to Australia, where I was happy to see her baptized at the 1973 international convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses along with 1,200 others. We were married the following weekend in Canberra, Australia’s national capital. Here I have served in the full-time preaching work for the past 20 years and as an elder in the local congregation for 14 years.
Thanks to my wife’s cooperation, we have reared three children—Toby, Amber, and Jonathan. Although we face the normal family problems, I still manage to share in the preaching activity full-time as a pioneer and at the same time care for the material needs of our family.
Today, back in the United States, my parents are dedicated servants of Jehovah, and although both are now in their 80’s, they still share in the public preaching of the Kingdom. My father serves as a ministerial servant in the local congregation. My two older sisters are also zealous for Jehovah’s service.
How deeply I thank Jehovah God that my many years of aimless wandering are now well in the past! Not only has he helped me learn the best way to use my life but he has also blessed me with a united and caring family.—As told by David Zug Partrick.
[Picture on page 23]
David and his wife, Caroline