I’m having lunch at an Indian buffet in New Jersey. A guy at the next table is eating gulab jamun. That’s the little Indian donut holes soaked in sugar syrup. He has two on his plate, a very sensible portion. But these things are all dairy and gluten and sugar, so I am disgusted and appalled. I can’t believe he’s eating this.
The way I’m staring at him, you’d think I had just seen him kick a child or intentionally trip an elderly lady.
Which is pretty messed up. I know this.
I’ve been dishing out this kind of judgment since I first got into holistic health. Appalled to see a man walking around on a freezing-cold day without a hat. Wrinkling my brow at someone with a beer belly who would obviously benefit from a little yoga. Shaking my head at a jolly fellow on the subway while he enjoys a three-pack of Hostess Cupcakes.
I did this to my dad for decades. The man was a genius at fathering, but he didn’t take care of himself. Which made me really mad. How selfish. How careless. How lazy.
Then my dad died.
The funeral home could not contain all the mourners. Person after person stopped me or my siblings or my mom to tell us how my dad had inspired them or mentored them or changed their life. We received countless such stories as well as plants, bouquets, edible arrangements, cakes, and cookie platters. Six months later, we still get e-mails and calls about him.
Which made me realize that perhaps my dad’s dharma—his work in this lifetime—was not to learn how to take immaculate care of his body. This is my work: to find balance, to learn what to eat, to learn how to exercise. But maybe this was not my dad’s work. Maybe he had checked that one off his karmic to-do list in a previous lifetime, or is saving it for the next one. Who knows?
But I see now that he was definitely not being lazy. And he was surely not being selfish. He was just living life in the way that he felt called to—which did not involve eating kale or collards or jumping into Chaturanga.
Family and friends and people and service and above all LOVE were my father’s calling.
So now I’ll try to withhold my judgments. Whether I’m obsessed with chanting kirtan or eating gluten-free, I’ll try to remember my dad and that not everyone has the same calling. That what I need to master and figure out may not be someone else’s life’s work. That they might be living their life exactly right, just as it is. Gulab jamun and all.
So, Dad, you’ve inspired me yet again, even after we’ve said goodbye. And I suspect it’s not the last time.
Brian Leaf is a Kripalu Yoga teacher and the author of Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi: My Humble Quest to Heal My Colitis, Calm My ADD, and Find the Key to Happiness.