I’ve Never Felt More Sorry for Anyone

“Okay, everyone. Now we’re going to head to our outdoor activity!”

The petite, spry woman leading my week-long Humane Education Masters residency program popped up from her crosslegged position on the floor and led a dozen of us to her picturesque coastal Maine backyard.

It was day two of five and we had just finished another vegan lunch, 8-minute Tabata exercise, and circle sharing.


I glanced to my left, where our cohort’s lone male sat.

We’ll call him Tom.

Tom was tall, strapping, in his mid-30s, and looked like he’d never gone a day without a kiss on the cheek and a homemade oatmeal-raisin cookie. He headed outside with the rest of us, where we received the following instructions:

“You’re going to pick a partner, and one of you will close your eyes and be led around the garden by your partner. If your partner wants you to smell something, she’ll tap your nose. See something, your eyes. Taste something, your mouth. You’ll take ten minutes, then when you hear the sound of the gong, switch places with your parner.”

There was an actual gong. It was to the left of that flying saucer. …Or maybe the gong was just wind chimes. I’m not very good at naming things that hang outside.

As I slowly died on the inside, I snuck a look at Tom. His face was unreadable.

“Okay, pick a partner!”

I lost sight of Tom and paired up with a new friend. When it was my turn to lead, I spied him. His eyes were closed as he dutifully allowed a classmate to lead him towards a small pond. I could only imagine what was going through his mind.


I’d tell you more about the next twenty minutes, but I’ve spent the past month trying to block them out.

So what on earth was this male, meat-loving, midwestern Lutherian doing in northern Maine with a bunch of vegan hippies?

Tom was the new assistant dean of the university issuing our Masters degrees, and was in charge of liasing with the online programs.

And I thought I’d had some awful jobs.

The next day, three of us were paired with Tom to construct artwork with only what we found in nature. I created a kangaroo pouch out of my t-shirt and set off to scavenge. When I returned fifteen minutes later with my treasures, Tom had already begun pinning branches and leaves to a clothesline.

“Can I borrow one of those acorns?” he asked.

“Sure – take as many as you want!” I replied, and watched as he filled a magazine page-turned-pouch and tied it to the clothesline with a long piece of grass.

As our masterpiece came together, I declared, “We should call this Nature on the Line.”

He nodded approvingly while I attempted to affix two small pinecones to either side of a large one.

“This looks so wrong,” I laughed, holding it up. One of the smaller cones kept falling off. “Now it’s Lance Armstrong.”


My classmate and I erupted into giggles while Tom chuckled and shook his head. I suddenly realized his presence was the perfect talisman for not only our humane education pursuits, but the political climate everywhere:

Just because someone doesn’t look like you, doesn’t mean they’re not down to share some nuts.

When have you felt completely out of place?