Lot of changes and emotions lately - fear and sadness over the loss and devastation in Japan; admiration for my family in the very Japanese-style kindness they extended by offering safe, radiation-free housing to my friends and their families; my elation over leaving a bad relationship; my 28th birthday and either an early mid-life crisis or a delayed quarter-life crisis; my realization that I had happily and single-handedly gone through half a gallon of ice cream and too much wine in a mere week...WHOA. There was a moment in time that became the eye of my hurricane...when I was cooking and the TV droned in the background. I tuned in, without looking, when I heard one female character ask another, "What's the nicest thing you've ever done for someone?" I stopped stirring my pot, raised my head and repeated the question to myself. And then I stammered out loud. "Uhh...." I drew a big, fat blank. Well, I had just made dinner for a friend and her sick husband. "That was nice of me," I thought. But was I changing anyone's life? Hardly. Twenty minutes of blank thoughts and pot-stirring later, my mind a reel of empty filmstrip, I suddenly remembered that I've been running a book club for the past three years! I enjoy that, certainly, but I also view it as a form of community service... I really try my best to be an exceptional friend, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and that doesn't always work out as planned. Um...
So, I looked further back into my life. I've been extremely lucky, and I've worked hard, and that combination means I've been able to accomplish some pretty awesome things. But what do those accomplishments mean for anyone else? I realized then how exactly my entire life has been all about me. I started to feel an itch, perhaps a very early clicking of gears of my 'biological clock,' an annoying little presence that conjured visions of myself in my deathbed, thinking, "Gee, you had a fabulous life. But what exactly was the point if it was all about you?"
These thoughts were tumbling around in my head at the same time I began reassessing my health and my diet - because it entertains me - and thinking nostalgically of certain aspects of my lifestyle in Japan.
Then I picked up a vegetarian book.
If you have ever spent any quality time with a book on vegetarianism, then you are well-acquainted with the nightmarish horrors of meat (and even dairy!) production and what it does to animals...not to mention poor people; our rain forests; our water supply; our ozone layer. Alicia Silverstone's book The Kind Diet reports that it takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce one 16 oz. steak, and that's the same amount of water you'd use taking 6 months of showers. If you have never been truly curious about how your meat is actually procured, I'll spare you the details - but just know that's much, much worse than 'we breed animals for food, and then we kill them early.' While I acknowledge that the following is dramatic, I believe it's an accurate analogy to say that that line of thinking is akin to summarizing the Holocaust as 'a period of time where a lot of people died.' The truth is much more horrific than that.
So I sit here thinking, "Now that I know of all of this, how could I really detach myself from the knowledge, shrug my shoulders over my rib eye and whip out a knife and fork?" I want to celebrate life, and other living things, and not cause unnecessary harm. I want to know that the life I lived, while fabulous for me, also made some kind of a difference for someone else. And I decided that not eating meat is a very good place to start.
I'm very excited because today is the first day in years (years and years!) that I have chosen to forgo dairy. (I was a vegetarian for 6 years in my previous life*, but I always ate dairy products). Today, buying soy milk is just as easy as buying cow's milk, and I have a really strong inkling that as the months go by, I'll see a difference in how I feel, similar to the changes I experienced in Japan. Not to mention, after living in Japan for a year, I have no problem embracing any and all types of soy products. It's a magic plant! And, the calcium argument doesn't really work, because guess what? Calcium is in the soy milk, too.
So. Please help me as I go forward, to be mindful of my choices and how they will affect the peace and well-being of other living things on this planet. Deep down I know that if a little piglet came up and nuzzled my leg (because they are affectionate, intelligent creatures), I would want to grab him and comfort him just like a kitten. I don't know too many people who would willingly slaughter a kitten. What is the difference, really?
It may sound like a very Zen philosophy, but I don't believe in a hierarchy among living things. I believe in protecting myself if necessary, for sure, but nothing was put on this earth for the sake of anything else. I believe in evolution and the fact that we're all struggling to coexist within life cycles and food chains. And I really want to believe that this is a Christian attitude, as well, because of the one line in the Bible that holds more meaning for me than any other: The Kingdom of God is inside you and all around you. God is in the spider we freak out and smash; in the old, tired, arthritic dog; in the harsh wind, and the trembling leaves on a tree. God is in your best friend; your boss; your elevator man...and cows, and pigs.
To steal a quote from the poet David Whyte, "The world was made to be free in."
For everything to be free in. If I can contribute to that, then I'm going to try.
*Why I 'stopped' being a vegetarian in the past is a long story, but suffice it to say, I was living in the homes of different people, in different countries, and as a guest of these other cultures, I wanted to adapt. It has taken a while for me to come back to myself, and remember why I made those choices...and remember that I can re-make them, now. For that freedom, I am grateful.