Finding the Light in the Dark

There are some mornings that even an optimist like myself may wake up to find the world a little darker. With the worrisome ways of the US presidential election, the devastating attacks in Orlando and Istanbul, the shock of the UK Brexit results, and my reoccurring dreams of oceans full of plastic swallowing us whole, its a wonder sometimes that more of us aren’t sitting in our sweatpants sulking about life. But the optimist will say: find the good, the cup is half full, not half empty… upward and onward with life, my friend!

So often, I feel, people doubt their ability to make a difference for the better and end up losing faith and not trying at all. When we don’t see any immediate (or short-term) changes as a result of our actions, it can be very demoralizing and we tend to ask ourselves, “Why bother?”  When I was about 14, I decided that I preferred my animals alive and frolicking in fields as opposed to on a dinner plate, so I became a vegetarian. That experiment lasted about 9 months when I gave in at a summer BBQ to some slow roasted, (I’ll admit, also, delicious) juicy chicken. I wanted so much to believe that I could have made a difference in the world but I couldn’t see how my lifestyle choice had an impact on anything other than my suffering stomach and subsequently, I lost motivation.  Nearly ten years go by and I found myself flirting with the world of vegetarianism again. A fascinating college class on human and non-human animal relationships in literature re-educated me on the behind-the-scenes of factory farms and the impact that the meat industry was having on our health and our environment. Vegetarianism happened without thought this time… one day I was eating meat, the next I simply was not.

It’s been three years and I’ve enjoyed countless discussions with friends, family, coworkers, and sometimes complete strangers about why I am a vegetarian. None of these conversations were intended to convince anyone that they HAVE to stop eating meat… I’m a firm believer that telling people what to do is the one of the least productive ways to create change. Likewise, the decision I made three years prior was made for myself, by myself; there was no romantic idea that I would become a vegetarian and everyone I knew would follow like sheep do their shepherd. I’ve been happily moseying along meat-free with little impact on anyone that I knew of… And then something small and wonderful happened that finally showed me the impact of my actions on others.

A couple of months ago when I was still living in Florida, I cooked dinner for a friend of mine who is a firefighter. It was a mishmash of veggie dishes that I had mostly made up: pan-roasted rosemary sweet potatoes, spiced quinoa and black beans with caramelized onions and garlic, and a hearty salad with homemade dressing. The meal happened to be vegan and I was nervous that the menu might not be satisfying to a carnivore’s palate. But my worries were for nothing as my friend loved the food and, to my pleasure, helped himself to seconds and thirds until there was nothing but stray rosemary sprigs left in the pan. In fact, he loved the meal so much he remade the menu for his crew at the fire station, who also became fans. A few days later their grocery run was all veggies and they requested from him yet another vegetarian meal. Now, nearly three months have gone by and they’re still cooking vegetarian meals often… and to think, it all started with one person and one simple dinner! This news majorly warmed my meat-free ventricles; unbeknownst to me I started a vegetarian version of Pay it Forward that helps better the lives of the environment and ourselves.

Although, this story started months ago, I didn’t feel the need to share it until a similar thing happened this past week. During my travels with my brother, I met a lovely British couple named Faye and Pat with whom I had some conversations about the state of our environment. We discussed the negative impacts of single-use plastics and the simple ways a little forethought (bringing reusable bottles and silverware with you) can help reduce our negative impact on the environment. I talked about how plastic straws are one of the most unnecessary and common polluters of the oceans (each day we use 500 MILLION) and how most trash ends up in the water ways at some point and how much there is already floating out there (5.25+ TRILLION pieces). I also, picked up some trash that I found one day near Lake Michigan when the four of us were together in Chicago. It was not much, but I just felt it didn’t need to be on the grounds of a beautiful park: an empty cigarette case, a straw, and a plastic spoon. The day after, Faye and Pat were on their own exploring the city when she texted me saying how they were picking up trash by the lake. I was (and still am) so touched that they are already doing things to help the environment, and in a place that they were just visiting as tourists! By the time they left Chicago, they were the owners of a reusable water bottle and well-versed in saying “no” to plastic straws and silverware when they ate out… I cannot wait to see the impact of their actions on their friends and family when they return back home.

So this post has gone a long way from where it started… but I wanted to share these stories to make a point: the world can be a dark and dangerous place, but every single one of us can help combat that. Whether you are passionate about animal welfare, human rights, gender equality, fighting poverty, saving the environment, education for children, or the thousand other social, economic, and environmental issues that we are dealing with in this modern day, YOU can help make a difference. Put your chin up, your chest out, and stand up for what you believe in; set an example, be kind to others, love the planet, help someone in need and be proud of it. We need to stop believing that our actions as individuals have no impact on others. Just as one man with a gun can take the lives of dozens and break the hearts of millions, one person with a kind heart could help the lives of billions.

In the words of Albus Dumbledore, via JK Rowling: happiness can be found in even the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light. Now is the time that we turn on the light.

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