Fasting Day: Cultivating Hunger Awareness as Thanksgiving
It is 3:53 am on Thanksgiving day. I have been up since 3:30, but I also shut off my bedroom light at around 8:15, so I guess I have had a solid night’s sleep- not that I have been doing any clock watching.
It has been 32 hours since I have had anything but water and hot tea. I am mostly over the hump now. Around 5:00 yesterday I started getting a headache, followed by body pain and general lethargy, but now I feel fine.
Fasting day is something my husband Jamey and I started doing year’s ago. It began as a way to cultivate empathy and understanding for those who do not have the choice but to go hungry. Each year when I do this, I learn something new.
This year, I learned how automatic it is to eat. Jamey and I both discussed how we almost accidentally ate an orange from our five-year-olds plate or grabbed a piece of candy out of a bowl as we walked by it. I learned what a wealth of resources we have- that we have to stop ourselves from inadvertently taking in sustenance.
This year was not so bad. The worst year was the first time my oldest son Jory decided to fast with us. Now he is fifteen and has the body and weight of a full grown man. At the time, though, he was still small for his age (maybe 12 or 13), thin-armed and baby-faced. It was horrible to see him suffer, but he didn’t want to give up. The next day, around this time, he woke up and said his stomach was hurting so we gave him a small bowl of cereal. Unfortunately, he tried to eat it and threw up.
It was heart-wrecking. I remember that year thinking how some parents watch their children suffer like this daily. How do they do it? They don’t have a choice, but their hearts must feel the same as mine did that day.
When we traveled to Istanbul during Ramadan, we had the fortunate experience of witnessing and speaking to many people who were engaged in fasting: no food or water from sun up to sun down. For around 30 days, entire families get up early to have sustenance before going about the normal day, sans food, until sunset. The beauty of Ramadan, as I saw it as an outsider, was the reverence for the meals at dusk. I will never forget sitting on the roof of our hotel and watching a family across the street barbecue on their roof or seeing how the people of Istanbul gathered outside of the mosques to picnic in the city together after sundown.
It was a sacrifice, but also a celebration.
There is something about experiencing the ways of another, in suffering or in joy, that brings a deeper truth to all experiences. As I was preparing to write this, I found a Wall Street Journal article about Christians fasting for Ramadan and Muslims participating in lent. How beautiful.
Of course, these experiences can only ever go so far. There are people in the world suffering through pain that I will never have to face, can never understand in the slightest. I know this. And yet.
There is something beautiful, something life-giving, in trying to move ever closer to someone else, someone you may never meet, someone whose life is happening parallel to yours- in another place, another time.