When I was 15 and living with my sister, we would fill our stomachs once a week at the Hare Krishna house across town during their weekly community meal. They would welcome us warmly and usher us into the house. My sister and I would sit in the middle of a pool of orange robed people as they unselfconsciously sang and chanted for what felt like hours. I would sit there, stress sweating, embarrassed for them, waiting for my free vegan meal.
One night, as I sat in the garden eating some sort of unidentified vegetarian casserole, one of the Hare Krishnas walked over and asked me how I liked the food. I was not an easy going teenager. I thought he was weird, the place was weird, the chanting was weird and I was furious at my sister for leaving me alone there. I was rude to him. My face went hot and I did not look at him when I answered that it was fine, thanks.
He was kind. “It’s vegan” he said. “We don’t believe in harming any living thing, they all have souls with feelings.”
“What about fruits and vegetables? Are they feeling me eat them right now?”
He just smiled down at me and explained that they were just the blossoms the living things released to us to eat.
“We believe that it’s not our place to interrupt another’s life path.”
“Mmmkay,” I said. “What about an ant crawling up my leg? Can’t I kill that?”
He smiled, “Nope, that’s not our place.”
I rolled my eyes. “What about a snake? Bee? Spider? Grasshopper?
No, nope, nah.
“Okay, what about a terrible bacteria?”
“We believe all living things have a purpose.”
“Okay, whatever.” I pretended to see my sister and shuffled off.
“Nice meeting you.” he called after me.
I ignored him, .
Now, many years later, I am grateful for the Hare Krishnas’ kindness and gentleness at a time that I was like a raw open wound, totally unable to accept love from anyone. They gave us healthy meals and explained about trees and worms having feelings. I guess now, when I put a spider outside or pick up a dehydrated earthworm and return it to the dirt under a tree, that guy got through to me and I’m grateful.