It was 8:57 when the young waitress held the door open for the simple man to enter. They said very little to each other as she showed him to his seat and brought him a coffee. Outside, the sun was still rising in a clear sky. Inside, the simple man was reading a book and the diner was steadily filling with people.
The simple man knew it was Sunday, and he knew what Sundays meant in the diner business, but he thought of none of this as he read his book. The place was full by the time he looked up again. Families and couples and church groups had filled the place with their presence, and the lobby was full of more waiting to take their place.
When the waitress came by again, the simple man spoke to her for a moment before she led a young, unshowered couple to his table. They were shy as they sat; shy with him and shy with each other. They’d just met the night before.
The simple man put his book down and greeted the couple warmly. They were relieved for the distraction. After their coffees arrived and introductions were made and a comfortable atmosphere established at the table, the young girl asked the simple man if he’d been to church that morning. He hadn’t, but thought it might be a good idea. He hadn’t been to more than a dozen church services in his life.
The young girl had stopped going to church about a year ago; towards the end of her first year of Uni. The young man had never been inside one, never thought much about it and didn’t really (with a shrug) care whether there was a god or not.
Although she was not fully conscious of it, the young girl felt deep pity for his spiritual ignorance. Not the sort of pity that would draw her closer to him and allow him to possibly “score” again, but the sort of pity that drew her away from him in the way a leader must stand apart from the led. From that moment of pity they knew where they stood and the possibility of becoming friends opened up.
The simple man and the young girl talked about God for a while. They had very different but satisfactory views on the matter. She saw god as a creator, he saw god as the created. Her church was a small town church and her family was friends, or at least friendly acquaintances, with the pastor – “he was nice man.”
The trio at the table all agreed that the church establishment and many of the parishers were hypocrites, but they reminded themselves that you can’t blame the teachings for the institution that disseminates them, nor for the way people choose to interpret and live by them. The teachings themselves, they agreed, are sound – if somewhat outdated.
The young man, who had been quietly listening, began to bristle. He didn’t understand very much of any of it. It’s not as if you need a book to tell you that killing is bad.
But once again, he betrayed his ignorance, for although we all know killing is bad, we don’t all agree on what killing is. We can’t even decide outright when killing another person is bad, but then we have to consider everything else we kill for food or pleasure or inattention.
The Jains cover their mouths and sweep before the walk to avoid the accidental death of even the tiniest insect. Most Christians freely eat meat without the slightest thought given to the animal that has been killed for them. So even though we might all know that killing is bad, the books and the teachings will hopefully help each of us to weigh, in our own conscience, what the meaning is of, “Thou shall not kill.”
The young man thought that this was going to far and did not understand what killing a cow had to do with morality. But this brought on a whole new conversation about the meaning of morality.
The young girl brought up the golden rule about doing unto others as you’d have done to yourself, and again mentioned the Ten Commandments. The young man added things like loyalty and honour. They all agreed that morals had to do with relationships, and, they added, the reward for a moral life was contentment and peace of mind.
But if it’s our relationships that determine our morality, what about out relationship with the cow, it can’t be very good if we’re killing and eating it without thought. Would this poor relationship not then cause us some disquiet? Many tribal societies that eat meat quell this disquiet by honoring the animal in sacrifice. The hallal meat that the Muslims eat is also duly honored upon slaughter. But considering we no longer allow humans to be honored and sacrificed to the gods, we have to further question whether honoring something is enough to quell the disquiet in our hearts and minds.
For a holy man, even the potatoes he digs from the ground feed him in sacrifice. But, he believes, the earth feeds him this bounty the way a mother feeds milk to a child. For the mother, as for the earth there is much to be gained in giving.
A deep silence overtook the table as the three of them thought about the paradox of gaining by giving. The young girl, thinking of herself as the child, wondered how much her own mother might be sacrificing for her, and how much pain she might be causing her. The young man thought of himself as the mother and wondered how he might gain by giving away, but the thought soon passed as he could thing of nothing to give. The simple man wished he was more like the mother and capable of freely and lovingly giving his all, but knew he was just a child, ignorant of the world he was in but reassuringly guided by the hand of his mother.
These thoughts faded away as the young couple collected their bill and left. The simple man, feeling the young couple now needed some space waited a few minutes before he too walked blindly into a world where anything can happen.