I can see the way your eyes widen and you pull away from me. I can feel the panic rising. Both of us can sense fear and defeat. Eleven years ago. A thirsty stray dog in a park and me, swinging halfheartedly and watching the canine collapse resignedly under a tree that provided one branch of shade. Fifteen minutes later, I found a disposable bowl and bottle of cold water, the dog was drinking in grateful surprise-grateful the way only a dog can be, really-and I was back on the swing. Eleven years. I can sense fear and thirst and longing far more often now-in more than just the canine species, but I don't think I have bothered with disposable bowls in a long time.
How often does anyone see adults actively cultivating tenderness? Towards their own, always, but beyond that, it is difficult, so difficult, to make room for both concern and action. Beyond the realm of animal welfare or human rights, ideals which we were passionately prepared to defend at twelve seem to lose shape and eventually meaning. The world fascinates me, because to be alive is to care-about the things you loved, the things you wanted and the person you think you can become.
How do I explain this at the dinner table when I am asked why I have become a vegetarian? I can't give a straightforward defense of animal rights. I'm not a vegan and I don't even believe eating meat is wrong in itself. I'm not particularly health conscious and I haven't given up on anything else. I can say it's better for the environment, but beyond recycling and trying to conserve water, I'm not especially kind to Mother Earth myself. Then what?
I eat more plants because every time I do, I make a conscious decision to be the person I thought I was. I remind myself that the things I care about can mean more than the things I want. I remember what it was like to feel despair on behalf of something else and try to bring it back, because to hang on to care is to stay alive.
I'm just trying to be me again, I promise.