When I was five years old, I unhappily discovered that I was the only girl in my kindergarten class who didn’t have a middle name. Feeling deprived of what I perceived to be an important clue to my identity, I asked my mother why. She wisely explained that the reason she didn’t give me one at birth is that she wanted me to choose my own when I was old enough, which was now.
I loved the idea! I remember running all the names I could think of through my head at least once, and then my favorites, over and over, until quite suddenly, a name came to my mind from a place somewhere inside me that I hadn’t even known was there, and before I could even think about it, I heard myself shouting for “Joy”! Thus began my lifelong quest for the true meaning of that word.
In the years that followed, I searched high and low, always in places where I thought I would most likely find it, like in playing games with my friends or vacations with my family and of course, in my pleasures. But, whenever I observed and explored the feelings these experiences evoked in me, I knew in my heart that they fell far short of what I imagined the thrill of joy to be.
Then, when I was nine years old, I fell in love with a boy in my fourth grade class, and for the first time in my young life, I felt the joy I had been seeking. Right then and there, I decided that here was a feeling worth living for, and from that day forward, I dedicated my life to being in love.
And then, at the age of twenty-eight, I made a decision that changed me in ways I could not have imagined. My desire to experience the joy of a higher love led me to look inside myself for how I could become more loving. That’s when I stopped using all animal products, and nothing has been the same ever since. I felt like I had been lifted to a mountaintop, after living in the plains all my life. And from that higher viewing, where the air was fresher, the world smaller and simpler and my choices vaster, my entire perspective evolved, along with every single thing about me, including and especially, my understanding of joy… and the love that inspires it.
I became a vegan, because I could no longer deny the inherent misery in everything non-vegan. When given the choice between continuing to contribute to that misery, or living the ideals I had always believed in, such as kindness, justice and non-violence, I knew, with absolute certainty, which was the right choice to make.
What I didn’t know were the seemingly never-ending joys that would follow… from the joy of no longer being a part of the horror and terror that exist in the exploitation of anybody’s body, which would have been joy enough… to the relief in not having to make excuses to my conscience for why I “can’t”, when we both know that what I mean is “I won’t”… to my elevated self-esteem in being a significant force in the evolution of Humankind… to a lighter body and a clearer mind… and neither last nor least, the indescribable joy of looking into any animal’s eyes, knowing I have freed them all from slavery to my pleasures.
Living the vegan ideal has also heightened my understanding of what it means to be spiritual, while serving as a template by which I measure the sincerity of humanity’s multitude of “one and only” gods. With my decision to stop doing unto others that which I would certainly not, under any circumstances, want done unto me, came the knowledge that any proposed supreme being whose teachings fell short of that golden rule would never again be god enough for me.
And what was the outcome of such blasphemy? High and behold! I not only avoided the punishment of deteriorating health that I had been warned would follow, but I have enjoyed the opposite ever since. Rather than being ostracized from society, as many prophesied, my elevated perspective and deepening compassion made me more sensitive to the needs of people in all societies. Even my fear of having to give up my culinary pleasures turned out to be unfounded, as I was introduced to a whole new world of delicious foods I had never known existed.
By acting upon what I knew to be right in my most reasonable mind and most compassionate heart, I was not punished, but rewarded. For me, this proves the existence of justice and empowers me to create my own joy… not only by being in love, which requires the willingness of another person, but by becoming love, which needs no other catalyst than my own will.
Now, when I think of that little girl struggling to grow toward the light in the darker ages of the mid-twentieth century, I feel a rush of gratitude for her courage to reach deep down inside herself for her longed-for identity, and shout it out for all the world to hear.
I might never have known the true nature of joy if she hadn’t.