How a Beautiful Exception Can Prove the Rule
Two years ago, in the summer of 2010, I wrote this:
“Note: Don’t internalize the theories of others about how well you’re doing. They will always miss the mark in some essential way, especially if they are not in any way informed or involved in a plant based life-style. But also even if they are. Let what you read and what others tell you, even in this area, corroborate your own experience. Trust yourself first.”
For me, this is absolutely true. But how I know this is that every once in a while a beautiful exception comes along to prove this rule I live by. One of those times came about just months after I’d started eating this way, back in the Spring of 2008. I was cooking up a storm from Fat Free Vegan Kitchen, and very excited about making so many good things to eat using no oil or added fat. At the time, I wanted a toaster oven so when it got warmer I could use it to bake potatoes instead of having to turn on the oven (I hadn’t yet discovered the miracle of baking potatoes in the slow cooker), or roast an eggplant to make Susan’s delicious Baba Ganoush. My son Mike and his girlfriend Kelly were still living here in town, finishing up their college degrees. We all like to shop at thrift stores, and they had been to a good one over in the next town. They called to say they were bringing me over a toaster oven.
I had a conventional toaster that had replaced an old worn out veteran, but I didn’t like it. To me it looked like those little black robots attending Darth Vader in Star Wars. I couldn’t get past this ridiculous association. But it was the only one around at the time I needed a replacement. We had all laughed about this. So when Mike came in with the new toaster, I couldn’t wait to get it off the counter. I jumped up from the chair in the kitchen to move Darth Vadar’s robot off the kitchen counter and make room for this “new” experiment. I turned back to my son and saw this on the face I love more than any other in this world:
Amazement. Joy. And relief. And the mirror of how severe my illness had gotten. Now Mike is not one to talk about how this has affected him in a negative way, though it had to. In fact he did nothing but cheer me on, and clown me out of the depths in all the years he was growing up living with me living with MS. But when he was a freshman in college he had to take a speech class. He was still living at home at the time. The assignment was to give a speech on something that had been most influential in his life. Since he was an avid skateboarder, and had worked for years to have a skate park built in our town, successfully (later actually receiving a college scholarship for that work), and had also had the first skate video he’d made shown at a film festival in southern California, I thought he would speak about that. He thought he would, too. So I was moved beyond words one night when, sitting in front of the fire, I asked him how his speech had gone, thinking it was about skateboarding. In what was then a rare moment of serious self disclosure concerning our relationship, he said, “Well, at first I was going to do it about that, but then I decided to do it about how you having MS has affected me. I didn’t want to, but I knew if I didn’t I’d just be lying to myself about what has affected me the most.”
I had heard the speech about how if you’re going to hunt animals, then you should at least learn to do so with a bow and arrow, to give them a more even chance of getting away. I was shown drafts of essays for other classes, and ideas for projects in design class. But I never heard this speech. And that is as it should be. I realized Mike had grown up enough to have a set of feelings and a reality about me that was not me. but him. I remember thanking him for telling me that had been his decision, and we left it at that. Perhaps the first time ever I did not “help” with a homework project.
So to see those feelings play across his face was a profoundly beautiful experience for me. And then to hear the words that followed. Something like: “You just picked that up. I mean you just went over there and lifted it, like it was no big deal.” Evidently he had been getting ready to move it for me and put the other one in its place. He did not expect me to be able to. And now I was in this place in which I did it automatically. In all the wonderful improvements that have followed since those early months, this moment remains one of my very favorite little victories. Its power to keep me on the path has lasted a lot longer than the toaster oven did.
Because of that old toaster oven someone donated to the thrift store, I saw what it meant to my son, in his face, in his eyes, for me to have the courage to trust myself and embark on this way of eating. Seeing the effect of that truth translated into the face of someone you love cannot be matched. There is nothing else quite like it.