Every person has a moment that transforms that person and forever creates a small, inalienable piece of that person’s personality. Often, these watershed moments happen early in life, before the adult mind is fixed in its world views.

My moment didn’t come with a graduation or a move to a different city. Mine came with the physical combination of a cow, my body and a brick wall. My life took a on a new meaning when I was hit by a cow in Jaisalmer, India.

I love to travel. Having been to most countries in Europe, I thought I was an experienced traveler. I never really experienced what could be called culture shock, though, until I traveled outside Europe.

On this particular trip, I was backpacking through northern India with my sister for three weeks. I dealt relatively well with the dirt, the food and the hysterical driving in Mumbai and Delhi. I was even OK with the teenage schoolboys following around me and my sister — a blonde and a redhead who stuck out like Yankee fans at Fenway Park.

But I wasn’t prepared for the cows barreling down the streets as we walked. My sister was, and jumped out of the way. I was caught looking down. The cow pinned me between its two horns and violently shoved me into the nearby brick wall.

It was at that moment that I lost it. I couldn’t take everything that India had thrown at me. I couldn’t understand how billions of people lived like this — and I wasn’t even seeing the worst of it, because I was living in hostels like an American princess. I was sick, tired and dirty, and I wanted to go home.

It took me three weeks of telling the hilarious story of getting hit by a cow to all my friends back home for me to realize the horrid truth of my thoughts: I could go home. I had a place far different than the world many Indians wake up to every morning. My life is free of disease, hunger and war. I don’t live in constant worry about how I’m going to get my family through the next day, not to mention the next week or year.

I had read some of Mahatma Gandhi’s writings while I was in India, but I hadn’t understood his true meaning. He dreamt of an India that could rule and feed itself, which would live up to its power as a distinct nation. As I read, I slowly began form a different vision of what I wanted and what I could do.

As I walked down the streets, I was awed by the way Indians lived. Indians live in harmony with each other, most of the time. But when they don’t, they don’t have a refuge from their lives. And much of the world has forgotten about them. Jaisalmer is 70 kilometers from the Pakistani border. My hotel room faced west, and my sister and I wondered whether we were watching the sun set over Pakistan or India. Gandhi didn’t want there to be a divided India. He saw India and Pakistan as two nations that started as one, and should have always been one. The British drew a line in the sand along religious boundaries, but it didn’t work, and isn’t working. In the meantime, those in power all over the world have forgotten about the people living on less than $1 a day. The more I read, the more I wanted to help and get involved.

Watershed moments aren’t meant to be clear or instantaneous. I didn’t come to a great epiphany about the world or the India when I was there. I just grew up a little. Major events often shed light on overlooked parts of the world, but it’s when the world isn’t looking that those places most desperately need our attention. I try now to be more aware of those people who aren’t as lucky as I am and help when I can. I hope that’s all Gandhi would’ve wanted from a Jewish girl from Chicago.

Gandhi may not have been so happy that I had a big steak when I got home. Yeah, I’m more of a do-gooder now, but I didn’t say I was above revenge.

Shannon Kellman is an LSA senior.

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