Sometimes the most mundane, silly experience can inspire serious self-reflection.
A few days ago, I had a fairly awkward restroom encounter. I was exiting, my coworker was entering, the door opened suddenly – it was all very surprising, and I let out an involuntary, “Oh my goodness!” and raised my hand to my throat; apparently when I’m startled I revert to Jane Austen-esque behavior. My coworker, equally startled, visibly jumped a bit and then started laughing and apologizing profusely.
“I always scare people like that with the door! I’m sorry!” “No, it’s okay, I’m sorry!” I said, also laughing. After we’d each said our repeated sorries, we went our separate ways, and I started thinking about those apologies.
What is it that makes us so quick to apologize in situations like that? Sure, I was sorry that my coworker was surprised at the door when she just wanted to use the restroom in peace, and I’m sure she was sorry that she nearly needed to bring out the smelling salts for my startled self, but were either of us sorry for attempting to enter / exit the restroom, respectively? Of course not! Our timing was just a little unfortunate, but neither of us could have helped that. Yet the sorries flowed as if we carried rivers of regret for our awkward meeting.
I used to pour forth gratuitous, nearly involuntary apologies like I was some overactive geyser of guilt. If Apologia Unecessaria were a country, I was the queen, showering my subjects with useless sorries from on high. I knew that the impact of an apology is fairly limited if it’s the 50th one you’ve said in a day, yet I had to consciously stop myself from saying sorry. And this need to show my penitence made its insidious, ingratiating way from my insecure little self into the kitchen and the dining room.
“Sorry for being a pest!” “Sorry for making you go out of your way to cook me something!” ”Sorry for making us choose a restaurant that doesn’t serve your typical American food!”
Not wanting to seem like I was purposely creating trouble for people with my veganism (and previously my vegetarianism), my gut reflex was, for the longest time, to apologize, apologize, apologize, and then thank, thank, thank. After all, who was I to force people to adapt their cooking styles? Was my personal eating pleasure worth making others go out of their way to accommodate me? My instinct – that insidious, insecure instinct – used to say no. My dietary restrictions are voluntary; it’s not like I’ll go into anaphylactic shock if I eat a scoop of ice cream or chomp on some cheese. I’m sorry for making things difficult! I’d say.
These days? I am not sorry anymore. I am proud of my dietary choices. Going vegan was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I harbor absolutely no regret for kicking dairy and eggs to the curb once and for all. In so many ways, I feel happier, healthier, and cleaner of conscience now than I ever, ever have in the past. I feel more complete.
And the sorries? They’ve stopped (although the thanks continue). When my friends bake with Earth Balance instead of butter, when my co-workers experiment with vegan alternatives instead of making egg-laden quick breads, when my family chooses to eat at a vegetarian restaurant while visiting me, I know these actions are their choices. They do so because they want to be inclusive, to share the simple act of eating with me, not because they’re begrudgingly bound and beholden to appease the girl who doesn’t do dairy or eat eggs. They’re cooking from the heart, and each cruelty-free bite of their food tastes so much the better for that simple reason.
My heart has been opened by veganism. I’ve made a conscious effort in the past few years to shed my cynicism and my defensive sarcasm. I am trying, truly, to let my compassion and empathy overpower the walls I’ve built up over the years. So how could I ever, ever be sorry for something so life-altering?
Especially when being vegan is so satisfying, not only to the heart but to the tummy. Being vegan has given me the chance to slowly work past my aversion to combining the sweet and the savory with foods like this shockingly delicious Curried Couscous Salad with Dried Sweet Cranberries.
And it’s let me play with presentation to make sweet little Cucumber Tea Sandwiches for a garden tea party with dear friends.
And it’s given me the courage to experiment, to take an inspiring Maple Hemp Granola Bar recipe and tweak it to make my own granola bars for camping, and then eat the crumbly leftovers with soy yogurt for a simple, delicious Sunday breakfast.
Nope, I am not sorry for being vegan. Not one eensy-weensy, teeny-tiny little bit. So there.