The powder-blue Mercedes parked in the drive, positioned for a quick exit if necessary. By the time I opened the door, a woman in her sixties was just climbing the steps. Alice and Dahlia put on an impressive show of brute force and noise against the glass so I ducked out onto the deck. We stood in the cold drizzle; me irritated at being interrupted while cooking, she looking timid and nervous, all the while glancing at her clip-board.
I tried to focus on what she was saying about a letter I should have received about a study being done by the University of Chicago. None of it made much sense, as the dogs bashed against the door with renewed fury. Then the word “spirituality” came out of her mouth and I saw my immediate out. It’s OK to be rude to people who show up on your doorstep rattling on about religion or spirituality. I started to back away but snagged on the thought that religious zealots usually don’t drive expensive German SUVs or dress in Eileen Fisher ensembles. I stopped my fidgeting and looked at her. If I am chosen to take part in the study, I would receive $35 and just for not chasing her off the property or allowing my dogs to eat her she handed me a $5 Target gift card.
Who sent this grandmother out canvasing for participants? Have they not heard of online polling? If the letter had arrived, the envelope had screamed JUNK MAIL and I tossed it without a thought. Judy’s soft, gray hair framed her face. It fell gently over her right eye and did a passable job of hiding the fact that it was shockingly lazy. You know that moment when your brain screams, “Stay calm, figure out which eye she is using then focus on that one!” She said she was from Rhode Island and laughed quietly at the joke of sending her out on this decidedly dismal day to canvas rural New Hampshire. From the road, she couldn’t have seen my house or had any preconceived notion of what lay at the end of my driveway. She said some folks purposely let their dogs loose on her. Though she has two dogs of her own, she admitted it could be scary.
My interest was piqued. I took the letter and the gift card back into the house and sat down to investigate. Red flags went up as I read the letter from The Landmark Spirituality and Health Study. For the princely sum of $35 I would be subjected to 70 mites of “interview” and an additional 20 minutes of “…collecting physical measures, such as your height, weight, blood pressure, hip circumference, waist circumference, and blood via a finger prick.” Oh, I don’t think I’m giving up a sample of my blood, just for starters here.
“We hope you will join us in this effort to learn more about the spirituality and health of Americans.”
The people listed as the TEAM on the website have more letters after their names and more titles than a class at MIT. They fit their entire resume on a business card as a jumble of acronyms. The John Templeton Foundation is funding the study with a grant of just over $8m. The plan is to conduct 3,000 face-to-face interviews with three target age groups; 18 – 40, 41 – 64, and 65 and older. Other than a few facts, the site didn’t answer any questions. I’m still scratching my head as to who these people are, why they were given $8m to spend and what is the expected result…
Several days later, Judy left a message on my phone. She was sorry but I had not been chosen for the study. Something about my age and not being old enough, however she thought the team would reconsider and she hoped to be calling me back in a week or so.