When I was 14, my mother’s cousin Mary came to stay with us for 2 days every week for 8 weeks as she took part in what I remember to be a holistic nursing program. I had never met her, and my mother hadn’t seen her in decades. We knew not what to expect, and Mary ended up becoming an important symbol for me. She didn’t wear makeup, she was a Buddhist, she meditated, she was a vegetarian. These are all gross generalizations, but for a kid growing up in “mainstream, middle-class suburban America,” (whatever the hell that means), she represented something different. It wasn’t so much WHAT she presented as alternatives to the lifestyle I had always been surrounded by, but the sheer fact that she presented me with any alternatives at all. I didn’t know what I wanted out of life, but Mary’s presence was an important part of the prying open of the door to a larger, wider, and immeasurably diverse world that offered me unlimited options of how to engage with it.
One night, Mary cooked my mother, father, sister and I a vegetarian feast: squash boats stuffed with delicious vegetables, topped with cheese and served with a side of blue cornbread. My father, being the weight-lifting, Men’s Health subscribing man he is, had raised me to know, not believe, but KNOW that a meal wasn’t a meal unless there was meat on the plate. In fact, meat was the thing that constituted a meal…everything else supplemented the meat. So after going through the pleasantries of enjoying the meal that was beautifully and lovingly prepared for us, my father and I did what we had to do. She forced us to, really. We made up some excuse of an errand we needed to run and he and I went on down to the KFC down the road to have our “real” dinner!
Well, over a decade later, my sister and I laugh and occasionally share in our cravings to have such a delicious meal to be prepared for us now! And I have since developed a much deeper relationship with Mary, to know that she is far more than any of those labels I romanticized her to be. I have also gone on to transition to what I call a “pretty vegan” lifestyle. I don’t believe black and whites really exist, so to proclaim myself a vegan or a vegetarian, or any label for that matter, relating to food or otherwise, doesn’t work for me. I almost always eat vegan, but there are exceptions to every “rule” and living and eating with as much conscious compassion and mindfulness as I can is really the true intention.
Needless to say, the transformation that I have experienced via my diet has presented my father with occasional difficulties. I always have to prepare quinoa or lentils or beans to supplement anything my father is cooking for the family, and when I am cooking a meal for them, my father always has to have some little side of meat he has prepared with which to supplement my cooking. And at times, he just couldn’t help but get irritated, or downright pissed, that I won’t eat meat.
“But you NEED PROTEIN!” I can still hear him gushing.
And this used to irritate, or downright piss me off right back.
“You need LESS PROTEIN!” I’d counter, arrogantly and aggressively scolding him on how he was brainwashed to believe his thoughts on eating meat and the horrors of the meat industry. Lovely dinner conversation, really.
But after quite a while of practicing a gentler diet, and observing so many of my community members exploring the same, I am pretty damn tired of people trying to convince one another of what they “should” be eating. (In fact, I’m pretty damn tired of any of us trying to convince any one else of anything “they” “should” be doing.) Information sharing is one thing, but shaming or scolding or feeling the need to “teach people,” whether they are interested or not, is a whole different beast. If something is so great about the way in which someone lives or eats, it is self-evident. No convincing necessary. If the food I eat or the lifestyle I practice is so freakin’ great, then that will be apparent in the glow in my eyes and the wellness I carry in my spirit everywhere I go. No need to shove anything down anyone’s throat. And if I am trying to shove my way of life down anyone’s throat, obviously its time for me to reflect on just how well it is serving me if I can be unwell enough to get on such an ego trip.
Time to put the swords down.
Time to take a deep breath.
Time to let us allow ourselves to be where we are, and have compassion for one another.
Time to lighten up, it’s all way more, and way less, serious than we could imagine.
Well, to my shock, surprise and unfathomable delight, I came inside my parent’s house yesterday morning after a peaceful meditation on their wrap-around porch and was greeted by my father asking me to join him on a trip to Whole Foods to get some ingredients for a vegan lasagna recipe he found online and wanted to cook for me! Well, hot damn! Apparently getting out of ego, abandoning arrogance, and living and letting live opens up some space, and my father and I had an opportunity to experience a more open and compassion understanding of one another and the food we eat! Who’da thunk?
I didn’t tell him that the recipe actually sounded gross to me. Ricotta “cheese” made out of tofu?!? Yuck. But by God, I was going to smile and eat whatever this thing was. I was going to have seconds, no matter what. Because when someone, anyone, but especially your father, offers to meet you where you are, you follow his lead and show up all the way.
I actually went back for thirds last night. Turns out vegan lasagna with tofu ricotta “cheese” is really delicious. And instead of getting all irritated and soap-box-y and judgmental, my heart cracked into a joyous, beautiful, loving laughter when at the last minute my dad, seemingly out of nowhere, whipped out a grater and a block of parmesan cheese and covered his piece of lasgna!
We are free, family.
We are Here, Now, together.
It is enough.
It is so much more than enough, but let’s start there.
Life is good.