November 10, 2017
The windows onto Church Street reached twenty feet high. The J streetcar clanged to a stop at the intersection with Market Street and people walked briskly to school, work and home, often stopping to enter our vegetarian restaurant, Dipti Nivas. Lines snaked out the door at the dinner rush, customers waiting to order veggie burgers, a square of Eggplant Parmesan, a protein shake or fruit salad. I stood at the cash register wearing my sari, the required dress of the guru we followed, greeting customers as I rang up the food on their trays. I opened Dipti Nivas when I was twenty-two, my then-husband and I disciples of a guru from India whose jnana yoga included serving the world through business and teaching meditation.
San Francisco’s skyline boasted the Pyramid building as one of the tallest in the City. Salesforce, Twitter, AirBNB and Google were not in our consciousnesses then.
It seems like a lifetime ago that I created the menu, worked with San Francisco architect Bob Tanaka on designing the cafeteria-style dining room, and a disciple, Saumitra, built the simple wooden tables and chairs. I drove from Marin to the restaurant daily to work the 2 PM ‘til closing shift. My sister, Kitsaun, worked the early morning shift, picking up crates of fresh vegetables at the wholesale market, ordering dairy products and staples, and making bank deposits.
Our parents had taught us the core values of working hard and being of service. The restaurant was an extension of our family, but also introduced us to a larger community of San Franciscans and Bay Area folks who were already vegetarians, or who discovered our food by walking past those large windows and being curious about our fare.
This month, we enter the time of year when families and friends gather around tables to share food and conversation. For many, it is a time of caution and worry because we fear we will have conversations that will provoke us in different ways, many of them negative. Broderick Greer, a canon precenter at Saint John’s Cathedral in Denver wrote about bell hooks’ statement: “I want there to be a place in the world where people can engage in one another.” How can we accept each other and allow everyone to be exactly who they are, not how we think they should be? Greer posits that when we try to change people, that’s not love, it’s domination. He writes: “Domination is the attempt to change others, recast them, remake them, possess them, control them… Public theology is at its best when it creates the space necessary for people of various gender identities, religious affiliations and non-affiliations, ethnicities, and economic levels to be known as their full selves, not pushed into a mold not meant for them. It is being less concerned about finding surface-level common ground than about holding space for people’s unique experiences of divinity and humanity.”
I fondly remember the ten years of owning and managing Dipti Nivas because it seems the world was gentler. Everyone who walked through our doors was welcome just as they were. We were only putting food on their plate and juice in their glass; we were not expecting them to change who they were to sit at our tables. We engaged in asking how the other was doing in life, and took notice if someone had not eaten with us for a while. Perhaps we can treat each other in that welcoming, caring way this holiday season, as if our business is to love each one we meet. Greer writes: “Love says, ‘I receive you as you are and want to imagine a world in which you are received as you are.’ ”
Blessings as you gather,