Day 1, Ramadan 2013

Day 1


I sometimes think to myself that I would like to love or be loved in the way that I have loved Ramadan.  As Ramadan approached this year, it took on the many guises of a lover.  It seemed at once familiar and unknowable.  Distracting and consuming.  Had she changed in the eleven months we were apart?  Had I?  This is the fifth cycle of fasting for me, but my heart still flutters.

With Ramadan, there is an intimacy I do not, or cannot, always claim.  I feel fraudulent on account of my newness to this faith, that I do not speak Arabic, that I eat pork, that I have only seen the inside of a Masjid a handful of times, that whenever I do go inside and line up behind the men, I feel anger that I would choose to be part of a religion that rejects me in all the same ways all my religions have, that Ramadan is my choice, not a requirement:  my born religious practices of Buddhism/Taoism, and Christianity (born-agains and Catholics) still live inside of me.  But even in the palms of the first morning I ever fasted for Ramadan, I knew instantly that this place was where I belonged.  Perhaps I knew it also the first time I failed to complete a Ramadan, flooded with shame and guilt, that this place had its claim on me whether or not I understood it.  A pressure in the back of my head, like any other calling in my life, filled with the possibilities of disappointment and victory.

I knelt on the prayer rug, the morning dark and warm, my forehead to the ground.  I knew, rather than felt, I was not alone.  Of course it’s silly to think of being alone when a community of billions around the world are all called to this prayer.  But it’s true that I was the only one who felt my feelings.  And that aloneness felt full and rich when I extended my imagination to the others out there.  Perhaps our foreheads touched.

When I first heard the call, I did not know what the sound was.  I was a junior in college, and I did not know that there was any such thing as a Muslim.  Now, as Rumi points out, I do not think that there is any such person as a Muslim, a Christian, or a Jew.  I was in Turkey, and in a van, and as we neared Instanbul, I saw a row of white walls glistening in the dusk, guarding a cobbled street.  Were there sparrows?  There are in my mind.  I knew instantly that the call stirred me.  It came from a little speaker perched on the top of the wall.  I did not know what anybody was saying.  Something about the words.  Something about me felt like it was coming apart, broken loose.  It bounced around the chambers of my heart before flying out of my life.

As I laid down this morning, after Fajr — to write these words — I wondered if I would always be the caterpillar, never the butterfly.

This year’s fast in New York City feels like it will be automatically difficult because it is the middle of the summer, and I have never experienced fasting hours such as these.  The City sucks up heat, and I am worried that the Sun will drain all the water from me, until I must kneel in exhaustion.

I am lucky I am not alone.  I have my fasting companions from previous years, Saima and her family in Los Angeles and Ramy here.  Roopa, a magical spirit from past incarnations of my life, has expressed her desire to fast for the first time.  My dear, dear friend Courtni is visiting unexpectedly on this first day from Texas.  She is my rock, and it feels like Allah spreading wings on my back that I get to have my first Iftar with her.  I am glad my brother is in New York City.  My family in the Bay Area loves me.  The human being I am dating looks at me as if she wants to get to know me.  There are many more people, but I am tired, and I feel that making more of this list would further exhaust me.  Already, my thoughts bend toward how I might conserve energy.

As a person, I am filled with doubt and fear, not just on the first day of Ramadan.  So many people have complimented me on my fearlessness, or on my confidence, but inside, I am laughing, quite a bit.  I recognize that courage doesn’t exist if you don’t have fear to overcome.  It’s just that I never meant to become an actor, a person who could wear so many feelings and ways.

The great thing about Ramadan is that I automatically contain these troubled thoughts because I know I must conserve energy.  I am left deprived of energy until, ultimately, I am left with only what is truly necessary.  Is my fear unnecessary?

The past couple years, in our cozy home on Degnan in Leimert Park, I used to read a poem to Saima in the mornings.  We chugged water, one eye on the clock, grumpy, visitors aside.  I would have my bibles of Rumi or Hafiz nearby, and for one year, Sonia Sanchez’s Morning Haiku.

Yesterday, I prepared for Ramadan by reading through most of Fasting for Ramadan by Kazim Ali.  If the C train had not nearly broken down and suffered delay on my way to meet the new human in my life, I wouldn’t have reached these beautiful words:

I once had a discussion about spirituality where the

other person said, But what if this world is all there

is and there is no heaven or hell?

Well that’s part of the point. We’ve made all we

need of heaven and hell right here in this existence.

Maybe this body, this one, mine, yours, this fleshly

thing, this is the extent of eternity, is all there is of

divinity; maybe there isn’t anything else.

Maybe the mind doesn’t understand. Maybe none

of this thought matters. Matter matters. We are


And as Fanny Howe wrote, If this life isn’t enough/

            then an afterlife won’t be enough.

I am always surprised at how many people I actually know end up joining me in community while I am fasting.  I always invite my friends to join me for Iftar.  I invite all my friends to fast with me, for a day, for more than a day.

Everywhere around me there are people fasting.  It feels best, however, when it is my dear friends who are fasting with me.  Perhaps faith is always about return.  And I want to return to the self I remember as much as I want to know who that person was.

i set sail

in tall grass

no air stirs.

– sonia sanchez


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Ramadan Day 29 – Is This The End, My Beautiful Friend? | Drunken Whispers

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