I was in the park when it happened. I was sitting on a bench, eating my snack of strawberries and water-soaked almonds, when a little blonde girl paused in front of me and stared. She didn’t say a word—she only sucked on a lollipop while her eyes, like two blue buttons, were fixed on me.
“Hello,” I said, to break the awkward silence. She still said nothing. I saw that she was staring at the container of food on my lap. “Would you like some of my food?” I asked.
She shook her head. “My mother says I’m not supposed to take candy from strangers.”
“You’re mother is right!” I said. “But almonds and strawberries aren’t candy.”
“It’s okay. My lollipop is made from strawberries anyway.”
“Your lollipop might be strawberry-flavored, but it is not ‘made from strawberries,’” I said. “In fact, it is probably not flavored with any part of a strawberry, but instead with a bunch of nasty chemicals that cause fifteen different types of cancer! This is a strawberry.” I held one out. “Have one. It is not candy.”
She peered at my hand and said, “If it’s not candy, then I don’t want it.” And then she skipped off.
All the rest of the week, I couldn’t stop thinking about that little girl.
What would she be when she grew up? A monster with no thought to the health and well being of herself and others, with no respect for the natural world? The owner of a fast-food restaurant?
After I had a nightmare about high school students claiming the Irish potato famine had involved people choosing to starve rather than go without French fries, I decided something had to be done. It was not enough that I ate a vegan, mostly-raw diet and grew organic vegetables on my apartment balcony. Admittedly, the garden required a great deal of moral courage considering the fuss my roommate made about it—apparently when he’d agreed to pay a hundred dollars more a month for the balcony he was expecting to sit on it—but that still wasn’t helping anyone but myself.
Ever since starting college, I had tried to help and educate those around me, but I had not made significant headway. And I didn’t want to be the kind of person who dreamed about changing the world and never did anything, so I decided right then and there that I would do something. Yes. Something big. Enough with encouraging people to make small changes like stone-grinding their own quinoa flour; I wanted to inspire them to change their whole lives. To start their own personal revolutions.
“Lee, I’m going to need you to help me. I’m thinking it will be like a seminar, you know? A presentation with a few graphic demonstrations of how you all are poisoning yourselves plus some refreshments that prove gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free, meat-free, raw food is absolutely delicious.”
Lee looked at me warily. “What does this have to do with me?”
“I want you to invite everyone. You know a lot more people, Lee, and even our mutual friends talk to you more. Every time I see them they tend to be running, always in the opposite direction.”
“They run now? They used to be more subtle.”
“What does subtlety have to do with it? I’m proud of them—despite the fact that the only explanation for their eating habits is a subconscious death wish, they are remarkably skilled at incorporating spontaneous exercise into their schedules. And they’re proof even a small workout brings results. In the beginning they could only power walk. Now I see them sprint up the stairs three at a time, and Harry, weak little Harry who cried when he found out he had to take a physical education class, why, he can leap behind doors at lightning speed!”
Lee nodded solemnly. “Yes, spontaneous exercise. That’s what they’re doing. You know, Trevor, since you love seeing people use their muscles, you’d be the perfect person to wave the starting flag at next week’s 5K. I would bet money everyone would run faster. Even some of the spectators.”
My eyes misted over. “That’s really sweet of you, Lee, and I’m honored you think I’m such an inspiration to people, but I can’t go to the 5K. I’m running a marathon that day.”
The smile that had been on his face slowly disappeared. “Will you invite people, Lee?” I asked.
“Oh, yes,” Lee replied. “I’m going to invite lots of people.”
A long rectangular table lined the side of the apartment living room, one end of it loaded with almond “cheese,” sesame seed crackers, Brussels sprout hors d’oeuvres, and my personal favorite, black bean brownies. The other end of the table was home to ten wheatgrass shots. I had wanted to put out more, but they were so expensive I would have had to charge for them. I had considered this but Lee had put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Trevor, my friend, health should be free to the world, and also I need you to be able to afford your half of this month’s rent,” so there lay the wheatgrass juice for all to enjoy. But oddly no one had taken any, which was surprising because so many had come. There must have been thirty people in our apartment, including all my ex-girlfriends, which was only two people who had dated me for a total of three weeks, but still.
“How did you do it, Lee?” I asked. “How did you get them all to come? I thought they weren’t interested in nutrition.”
Several people overheard me and I found everyone looking at us expectantly in an eerie silence. Lee fidgeted slightly. “Well, I didn’t quite use the words you told me to,” he said.
“No? What do you mean?”
“I didn’t call it a revolution.”
“Then what did you call it?”
“To be precise, I called it an intervention.”
“That’s what got people to come? Something so negative rather than the uplifting, inspiring word revolution?”
Lee sighed, and then a girl in front of us who looked only vaguely familiar spoke up. “You don’t understand, Trevor. We think you should see a psychiatrist.”
I took a step back, the air sucked out of my lungs, and I saw that the room was full of thirty heads all nodding at me.
“Who are you?” I said to the girl.
“Maggie. I was in Intro to World Religions with you,” she replied.
“That was two years ago.”
“I haven’t been able to put it out of my mind.”
“It’s for the best,” everyone murmured. “We really think you need it. This…it’s too much. Don’t you see?”
I said nothing. A few tears came to my eyes as the faces and figures in the room collided, and in my peripheral vision I saw Harry sneak a bite of a cheeseburger from his backpack and toss someone a can of Red Bull. I wanted to cry because they had hurt me, but also because of something else.
At home, two hundred miles away, my diabetic father sat in a wheelchair, when he bothered to get out of bed at all, because both of his feet had been amputated three inches above the ankle. Before me was almost every friend I had ever known and cared about, some of whom I loved as dearly as family, and I saw in their futures the same fate as the man I had spent my life loving and emulating.
But they were right. I never should have tried to change them.
I should have realized a long time ago that you can’t save anybody except yourself.