Ignore the voices. There’s always a point.
At first, I could not tell what it was. That thing, dangling from the rope, dragging on the steaming asphalt. I could, however, make out the large bearded man at the other end of the rope. He seemed excited. “He wants to sell us this owl.”, our guide said. Ha? Then I saw it, hung upside down by one foot, head bumping on road, eyes filled with confusion and terror, beak gasping for air. Our guide sent the man away while muttering “capturing a wild animal…not OK”. Then we piled back in the bus and got on our merry way.
“Where did he get this owl?”, I naively asked. “He captured it”, said the guide. “And what would anyone do with an owl??” “They use it for rituals, as pets, and some eat it too.” My insides were in turmoil. I must do something. I must do something. I must do something. But I’m in Africa and this is normal. And who am I to get involved? And what can I possibly do? And what will the others say if I interrupt the trip and delay our beach vacation?
“How much does he want for it?”, I asked. A few bucks. “Will you help me buy it?” The guide lit up. “We’re going to turn around and go free that owl”, he informed the group. My inner conflict gave way to great urgency. What if we were too late? What if someone had already bought it? What if it died?? The drive back lasted three minutes, yet felt like three hours.
“What’s the point?”, the bus erupted in soft chatter. “As soon as we rescue this owl, the man will capture another. In fact, we’re encouraging him to do just that. And besides, it’s just one owl. We cannot save them all.” It’s not that they objected to the rescue or minded the delay. They were happy to play along. Some even found it exciting. But they all seemed to agree that this act did not matter. It was pointless.
My heart was working overtime. I could barely look at the bad men thrilled for their loot. I wanted to get it over with. I wanted to get the poor bird away from them. And myself. “Are you going to free it?”, they asked. “No”, we said, hoping — foolishly, I’m sure— that they won’t attempt to recapture the owl. “We’ll keep it as a pet. Or something”. I removed the rope from the owl’s foot and placed the frightened bird in a cardboard box, using the rope to close the box shut and, once again, denying it its freedom. It looked up at me with big fearful eyes. Just a bit longer, I said without words.
As we pulled away, I was awash with emotion. I was happy and relieved, yet deeply sad. My heart was racing, my breathing was hurried, and tears ran down my face, kept hidden from my fellow travelers by my oversized sunglasses. I was keenly aware of the opportunity given to me in this moment. And I was terrified of how close I got to squandering it. To walking away. To be convinced by those tempting words: What’s the point?
The owl and I exchanged looks throughout our 30 minute drive together. It peeked at me with intelligent and puzzled eyes. With my own, I tried reassuring it that it was safe. I’d like to think that it understood.
I lay the box on the ground amidst the trees, untied the rope, and opened the flaps. The owl remained motionless for a moment, and then spread a pair of magnificent wings and soared up into the tropical forest. It was magical, and it was over in a single heartbeat. And there it was; the point.
So no, I did not end animal abuse, wars, or world famine. But for that one owl, being alive and free was enough of point.
But there was another. You see, the owl helped to spread my own wings every bit as much as I helped to spread its. It connected me to the power that I hold — that we all hold — to manifest change. The power to stand up for what we hold dear; to challenge norms; to withstand the discomfort of doing so. The owl also showed me that when we get up to fight the good fight, others follow.
A few months later we birthed Shouk, an eatery that is normalizing plant-based eating. At Shouk, we challenge the notion that food is either good, or good for us, and we invite our customers to rethink everything they know about plant-based foods. We work to elevate their palates and souls alike, drawing a direct line between the two. And, we’re doing it one meal at a time.
This, at first glance, may seem pointless. Changing behavior, habits, and deeply-rooted beliefs around food is too daunting, too hard, too impossible. Certainly, a small restaurant — no matter how delicious— will make no dent. Not to talk about money.
But then, a few times each day, a guest will pause at the door. They will look back and say: “Thank you! I never thought that I could enjoy a plant-based meal, but now I know differently.” And that, my friends, is the whole point.
So ignore the voices. Those who say that it matters not. Who believe that it’s futile. That someone else should do it. That it’s too difficult. Or risky. Or stupid. That there’s no point. Ignore them. But most of all, ignore the part of you that thinks that they’re right. There is always a point. And ignoring the voices so you can do what’s right is it.