Ramadan Day 22: Allah Loves to Go to Work, a Thesis Statement

I gulped down some rice and peas at the queer M Iftar.  I wasn’t sure what we were discussing during Quran study because I wanted to fall asleep.  Amelie sighed and said, I get my work done after Iftar, and even though I don’t work at night, I’m surprisingly productive.  It’s almost over, and only now do I finally get my routine down.

Word.

Work.

For the next two weeks, I teach writing and drama to 10th graders who are hoping to become first generation college kids in New Jersey.  This is the third year I’m teaching for this program.  It’s also the second year I teach during Ramadan.  It’s a 5 hour commute, and while commuting and in the hours before/after I teach, I try to get my admin work done.  Grading hasn’t even been factored in.  Writing this blog definitely hasn’t.

I hurt my back.  I have a grueling work schedule.  Why not break the fast?

Thesis statements need to be clear, specific, and state an argument or claim, I said.

They alternated between gossiping or dozing, as I spoke, or sprang around on their rocket feet, slurping big gulps and snapping plastic to-go boxes of chocolate cake.  One student woke up from her nap, whispered something I couldn’t hear to the girl next to her, and proclaimed loudly that she was bored, that this was a boring class.  The teaching assistant (a recent high school grad) told her to leave and take a bathroom break. 10 minutes later, she still hadn’t returned.  I had to send the assistant to ask her to come back.

I spoke to her outside as the other students started writing an essay.

I know what the problem is, I said.  What? she said, rolling her eyes.

You’re really bored because you’re too smart.  I was the same way.  High school was boring.  There were way better things to do with my time.  But, I had to sit there and prove to people that I already knew what I knew.  She rolled her eyes again.

I know I’m boring you, I said.

Really? she said.

I could use your help today, I said.

How so? she said.

I can’t give you extra attention because there are so many other students. Go ahead and raise your hand and volunteer answers to the questions.  That way, if you know something, you’re helping me teach the other students.

She raised her hand every 10 minutes to ask me questions.  Her questions were really smart, but she didn’t know any of the basics of essay writing.  How could she?  She clearly didn’t like to pay attention to subjects that weren’t easy for her.  We really do have a lot in common.

To be successful, both a teacher and her student must work.

What if I treated Ramadan like I did my work?

I’ve had to change the way I treat my writing.  I don’t just do it when I feel like it anymore.  I sit down and require myself to write, even if I’m not feeling it.  There have certainly been some very workmanlike posts this Ramadan.

I set aside time to sleep, time to be tired, time to eat, time to study the Qu’ran, time to write.

But the math doesn’t work this year.

There’s not enough hours between sunset and sunrise, when I’m most alert, to do everything.

I can’t get a routine because my commitments are moving targets, whether it’s teaching or travel or health or otherwise.  I can’t get a grip on the unexplained, the unknowable.

I can’t set aside my life for Ramadan.

I have to work to make room for both.

I have commitment issues.  It’s this part of the relationship that causes most of us to leave.

In the classroom, I was so tired.  I’d told them to quiet down dozens of times.  My throat was dry.  I’d lectured for most of the two hours.  It was the last five minutes of class.  I’d fasted through a jury trial as a Public Defender; I’d fasted while playing a tennis match; I’d fasted through thick and thin with barely a hiccup.  This year, at every turn, I’m stymied.  Blocked.  Things don’t feel good.  Am I just getting old?  Where are you, Allah?

Professor, Professor, the third student in a row asked, can you repeat the assignment?  Half the class couldn’t hear me because they were already packing their bags, or chatting.

I don’t, as a general rule, tell people who aren’t friends/family that I’m fasting.  I’ll sit around at a lunch meeting and not say I’m fasting if asked why I’m not eating.

I don’t like to discuss fasting because I feel that it’s nobody’s business, but also because I have an instinct that it takes away my personal power.  How so?  Well, it’s like when you’ve gone through a bad breakup, and you tell the story for way too long and with too many details and too much self-pity instead of just cutting yourself off.  You don’t feel good after you’ve said too much, no matter the listener.

I walked to the door.  I was coughing slightly.  I was losing my voice.  Hey, hey everybody, I said, frustrated.  I need you to pay attention.  I can’t continue to repeat things over your side conversations.  I’m fasting.

They stopped speaking immediately.  We didn’t discuss it.  I finished telling them the assignment, and they walked out the door.

I didn’t explain further.  I said it because it was the truth.  I didn’t think about it before, or immediately after.

This year’s fast has been so hard on my body and my mind that I’ve had to adjust, and repeatedly.

My irritation and emotions are strong, overwhelming.

But, I need to prepare you (and me), dear reader, for the unexpected:

Every day, the fasting has been getting harder and harder.  And I’ve been healing, becoming happier and happier.

I’m happy.

The Don said, “This is the first Ramadan I’ve experienced where the fast has gotten progressively harder every day. Isn’t it supposed to be the other way around? It definitely signifies something.”

I’ve been working so hard, been so focused, that more and more, I forget to think or worry.  There’s no way I could’ve done this by myself.  Allah is working too, delivering gift after gift, helping me to see the world.

By reducing this great fast into a series of small, somewhat grueling moments, I have somehow made this fast my own.

Isn’t this true for you as well?

Haven’t we, by denying ourselves food and water, by enduring, by trying so hard — haven’t we made ourselves somehow more awake, more cognizant of your own work than if it had all been easy?

Haven’t we become more human?

Haven’t we paid more attention to the effort and cost of living, than if it all came effortlessly — if the past twenty two days had felt like all the ones before?

Allah’s handiwork is revealed

by thread, then pull, the stitch

of faith, all sewn up, surrendered

submerged upon my bed of blackout

curtains, I hear Penny’s voice: Prospect

Park was lovely today.  There’s so much

more than the small world

in my mind.

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