From 1951 to 1955 journalist Edward R. Morrow hosted a popular five minute program on CBS Radio in which both famous and everyday people wrote short essays about their core beliefs which were then read on the air. The idea grew out of Morrow's experience covering World War II in Europe and the subsequent Cold War and was launched amidst an atmosphere of political paranoia and witch hunts against Communists by then Senator Joseph McCarthy. It proved to be an inspiration for the people of America.
In 2005 the show was revived by Dan Gediman and Jay Allison on NPR and again proved to be inspirational for its audience (interestingly at a another time of political paranoia, this time against Muslim terrorists). I wrote a short piece about my experience of becoming a vegetarian when I was a young student in England. I never found out whether it was broadcast or not and completely forgot about it. Today I received an email that my entry is on a new website, http://thisibelieve.org/ . So here it is, my entry for This I Believe. I wonder if I'm in the book as well.
In 1971, when I was nineteen years old, I attended the first open-air rock festival at Glastonbury in England. It was a time of personal transition; university education had proved dissatisfying and I had dropped out of my Art History major at the University of Bristol. Six years earlier, my enthusiasm for religious experience had floundered on the dry ground of church orthodoxy. Life seemed unsatisfying and discordant.
A chicken helped change my mind.
On my first day at the festival I observed a man with a white hen sitting on his shoulder and a sign that read, "IF YOU LOVE ANIMALS DON'T EAT THEM." For some reason, that odd cameo struck a resonant chord. Meat was a favorite part of my diet. At the same time, I really loved animals; as a child, my pets were my best friends. Until I saw that sign, I had never before made the connection between the two: that in order for me to eat meat, something I cared for was being harmed. As long as the two things seemed separate, then I could eat meat. Once they came together it was impossible for me to do so. Connection brought understanding and changed my perception of the world, and consequently my behavior. I have been a vegetarian ever since. Shortly afterwards, I also gave up recreational drugs and alcohol, returned to my studies and took up yoga and meditation.
Through meditation, I came to appreciate that although life appears to be a mass of contradictions and differences, underneath it all everything is connected. More than that, I myself, as an integral part of creation, am connected to all of creation. To me this is not a matter of personal opinion, religious faith or political affinity but rather something that grew from my meditation and the experience of a silence deep within. Over the years it has allowed me to become more tolerant and less fearful, more appreciative of differences, more careful about the effect of my actions and more respectful for nature and the environment. Understanding the wholeness of life brings peace to the heart. This I believe is the greatest gift I have been given in this life and the greatest gift that anyone could ever receive. In these troubled times, I believe, it offers a future of hope for mankind.
And so I have to offer my thanks to that man and his chicken.