This summer, we had the privilege of spending time in Newfoundland with Mike’s family. His family lives in a small cove and their home is right across the road from the ocean. It is so beautiful – we saw seals and a whale from the comfort of their deck. It is always a treat to be so close to the Atlantic Ocean, so different from our Alberta.
As traditional Newfoundlanders, I was pretty much on my own vegan-wise. I had to ‘suck it up’ and be gracious with my kids possibly eating dairy, ice cream sandwiches in particular, meat and fish. Mike’s parents were super-accommodating and worked really hard to make sure that some basic vegan options were available and that they knew the stores to take me to for the rest. I really appreciated it.
The trip this year was a little different. Due to scheduling, we staggered our visit with Mike and the boys having their last week without us girls.
During their last week, I got the text “We’re heading out early to go fishing”, I got that pleading feeling in my stomach of ‘do you need to kill the fish?’ so I responded with ‘If Dom or the fish look sad, throw it back’.
I felt sad but happy that they were getting to go out on a boat, a novelty for them. Early afternoon the pictures of my boys pulling up fish (they each got one) started arriving, and I couldn’t help but see the joy on their faces – they were having a blast!
Although it makes my stomach ache to see the poor fish at the end of its life, I had to take a moment and remember a few things:
- The connection to my boys’ heritage is important. Their great-grandfather and many of their ancestors were fishermen. This is how they supported and fed their families. Experiencing fishing gives them better understanding of where they came from.
- The connection with family that they don’t get to see very often is important. While the thrill of catching a fish and riding in a boat may not be as exciting for those that can do it whenever they want, the anticipation, joy and excitement that my boys expressed is contagious. I hope it renewed that joy for their home in those around them. It allowed them to see these children in their natural joyfull state.
- They learned patience and perserverance. Fish aren’t dogs. They do not show up just because you happened to get in a boat that day.
- They learned conservation. With the thrill of victory and the ‘rah-rah-rah – I am Mighty, hear me Roar’ still pulsing through my young son’s blood, he caught another smaller fish and wanted to keep it. Mike told him ‘No, this one’s too small, it has to go back in and grow bigger.’ We don’t take more than we need, in all things.
- They experienced connection with what they harvested. I asked my son if he ate the fish he caught. He said ‘Yes, it was good.’ That connection of ‘I sought sustenance, I found _______, I released the life force of the _________, I prepared the _______, I give thanks for this _________.’ is something missing for many people. I feel this way about pulling up carrots and picking beans from my garden. The process of harvesting and preparing our food enables our bodies to digest it properly.
- They experienced what it feels like to cause death. This one is not light and fluffy just because it is a fish, a water creature somehow less than humankind. Experiencing the feelings of ‘This fish was alive and now it is not because of what I did” changes something inside us when it is examined from a place of compassion and empathy (or a vegan mother whispering in your ear) and the fact that we don’t actually HAVE to eat meat to grow big and strong and healthy. Is this a Good and Kind thing to do? It is very different than buying a fish or a pound of ground beef from a store shelf. It’s already dead by that time so the personal investment is strictly monetary.
- They experienced the life cycle of the creature world. This time they were on the top of the food chain. But head into the woods and encounter a wolf or a bear, and they will not be on top any longer. I often reference Zathura, a movie about a game board that becomes real. When threatened with carnivorous invaders, the young brother sighs in relief and says “oh good, we don’t have any meat” and big brother says “YOU are meat”. It’s nice to win sometimes, while remembering that someone has to lose in the competitive equation. This time it was the fish, next time You might be the meat.
In the end, I have saved the pictures and I smile when I see their smiling faces, squinting into the sunshine, having an experience that only happens every few years. My hope is that all these connections stick and are integrated into their brains and body for the betterment of All creatures on the planet and that they will make Kind and Compassionate choices when they leave our home for the world abroad.
I have given my thanks to the energetic life force of those fish, for gifting my children these lessons. May their energy go back to the universe to be transformed into something beautiful again.