After watching a brother in law go through some rather horrifying near-death experiences last Christmas, my wife, Mary Ann, and I decided then, in our late 40's and early 50's, that maybe vegetarianism is a good idea. We had leaned toward that over the years, and seeing Grady go through angioplasties and being called to the hospital at all hours of the night for the imminent deathwatch that eventually never came, we could see ourselves on the same gurney, in the same ICU, with the same tearfully gathered deathwatch of relatives. We took the plunge, and had a mighty change of heart literally overnight. I could suddenly see the death, violence, and fear that we had been consuming by partaking of flesh, and I wondered why I had never noticed it before.
We have been pretty faithful since that decision, as well as patient with each other as we learn and move along in the discipline. Certainly we're not perfect. We started out in April 2001 just eliminating meat, except for seafood (we eased into vegetarianism, following the notion of Paul Theroux that fish is a vegetable). Last month Mary Ann and I went to Outback Steak House, simply because we had gift certificates. When we walked in, the hostess, of course, asked whether we wanted smoking or non. I said, "Non-smoking, vegetarian section." Mary Ann gave me The Look, and the hostess laughed. We got our seats, and the waitress came by. We looked the menu over, and Mary Ann sort of settled on the grilled fish. I was leaning toward shish kabobbed shrimp and veggies on rice. I have been mostly vegetarian except for occasional shellfish, but that is changing. Traditionally, when we go out we usually either get one entree and split it or get different things so we can share the joy. The fish selection was salmon, grouper, or mahi mahi. She said, "I know you don't like salmon. How about the grouper?" I was aghast. I said "No! Not the grouper!" She asked, "Why not?" I said, almost without thinking, "They have such kind faces." She gave me The Look again. The waitress didn't know what to say. I said, "You remember the grouper at the aquarium..." She cut me off with, "Yes, yes, ok. How about the mahi?" I said, "Well, that's better, I don't know them. They are Hawaiian."
She ordered the mahi mahi. But a funny thing happened: as the meal progressed -- I began to feel sadder and sadder. I could not explain it. It was like "bad karma" or something. I told Mary Ann I could feel "the force." I could feel the huge force of GOOD in the universe, and the bad too. I could feel the bad terrorists who want to explode bombs and kill people, and it made me profoundly sad. I thought about being in this steakhouse, with sacrificed animals all around me, and I actually got teary eyed. I could feel the...I don't know, I just felt mournful and sad. The same way I have felt lately when walking near the meat section in the grocery store, but more intense. I told Mary Ann that I felt inexplicably sad. I wasn't mourning the guy's steak next to me, but I just had a sense of sadness overall.
The shrimp on my plate looked like insects mixed in with my veggies. Big long insects. I scraped them to one side, finally placing them in a napkin so I wouldn't have to look at them. I haven't felt too bad about shrimp in the past because I have eaten them all my life, and I see them as sort of bugs anyway, not with personalities, but I guess that has changed now too. I didn't make a big deal about it, or any deal for that matter. I just felt this sense of sadness, and I was happy to leave, where I felt like I had come out of a cloud. We took the shrimp and most of the mahi mahi home (their sacrifice would not be in vain) for our teenage son who is still about 15% omni.
About the grouper: There was this huge grouper at the Charleston Aquarium that hung around the glass and was truly interested in the people out there. He even seemed to pose for pictures with people. He would look at you with one eye, then turn and look at you with the other, like WE were the ones in the zoo. He really did have a personality, and I was amused by him. So here I am, 47 years old, still the fattest vegetarian you will ever see, but with numbers getting better and better, and feeling a strange new connection to the rest of creation -- reading more labels, not caring that my grown children and extended family think I am kooky, allowing myself to exercise the patience required to learn this whole discipline, and hoping it's not too late.
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