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Lions Roar : September 2006
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2006 31 MY SON SKYE was three years old when he became a vegetarian while waiting in line at the meat department at Whole Foods. His qualms about flesh-eating had started a few days earlier, when he learned that while soy burgers were made from soybeans, salmon burgers were not, in fact, made from salmon beans. (“Not a fish that swims in the sea!” he had laughed in disbelief when I explained what a salmon was. And then, concerned: “How do they get it to stop swimming in the sea and be a burger?”) Now I was pushing him through the produce aisles, as he perched in the basket of a heaped shopping cart gnawing on a sesame-seed bagel. “I’d like a pound of ground turkey,” I told the white-aproned man behind the meat counter. Skye spun around in his seat. The week before we had admired wild turkeys waddling through the tall grass at Spirit Rock Meditation Center—their red wattles, their curved beaks, their drooping tailfeathers. “Turkey? Where??” he asked. “Um...right there.” I gestured, reluctantly, at the heap of shredded raw meat in the glass case. He leaned over and stared at it, then looked at me suspiciously. “What do you mean, ground???” he asked. Skye’s almost six now, and he hasn’t eaten meat since. I cook mainly vegetarian food at home, and until recently, he’s been gracious about my occasional carnivorous moments. But lately, he’s been getting in my face about it. “Did that chicken want to die?” he asked as I gnawed on a drumstick while he ate cheese ravioli. “What did it think when it saw the farmer coming to kill it? Did it run away? Was its mother sad?” When he pressed me for details about how the chicken died, I told him that someone had probably cut off its head. “Didn’t that hurt the chicken’s feelings?” he asked. I’ve explained to him that life endlessly devours life, that eating usually involves killing another living thing, and that the important thing is to do it with gratitude and respect. I tell him that different people make different decisions about what kind of living creatures they’re willing to eat. (I know I’m stepping into controversial waters here, but even Buddhists have differing opinions on how to interpret the non-killing precept, with sincere practitioners—including monks—run- ning the gamut from vegans to omnivores.) But, he argued, “You can eat the fruit of a tree without killing it.” Was I going to have a little Jain in my home, living on fruit and nuts and wearing a white mask so he didn’t inhale any insects? Even bread-baking raised tough questions when he learned that yeast was a living organism that got killed in the oven. “Does yeast know it exists?” he asked, frowning. “Does it think, ‘I’m yeast! And I don’t want to die!’?” Last summer, Skye melted down when he saw me smash a giant cockroach with my flip-flop in the bedroom of our vacation beach house. “That cockroach wanted to live!” he sobbed. “And now they’re going to put you in prison.” “Sweetie, they don’t put people in prison for killing cock- roaches,” I explained. “But they put the man who shot John Lennon in prison!” I clarified that John Lennon was a Beatle, not a cockroach, and that people usually did try to get rid of cockroaches in their homes, because they carried germs and could make people sick. The Big Questions ANNE CUSHMAN returns with more about her young son, Skye, who keeps her thinking with his many questions. As the Zen masters say, look not for answers but at the nature of questioning mind itself. Anne’s son, Skye PHOTOSBYLOUHAWTHORNE ANNE CUSHMAN is a contributing editor to Tricycle and Yo g a Journal, and the director of the Mindfulness Yoga training program at Spirit Rock Meditation Center.