Gratitude

Ramadan afforded me the opportunity to approach the precipice of starvation and look out. From this vantage, I could see how food is understood by our bodies as hope and joy; its absence can lead to despair and sorrow. At times I felt its abandonment as if it were an actual friend. It didn’t help that my human pals seemed to be steering clear of me, saying we’d catch up after my Ramadan experience was over, as if our friendships were based on cramming goodies into our mouths. One day I felt so lonely and depressed that I convinced myself a small snack was a medical necessity to cheer me up. I ate a few almonds hoping they might function in my system like Prozac.

Every evening, as the minutes ticked closer to the time for food, I found that my hunger—which had inevitably dissipated sometime in the late afternoon—would kick back in. Just knowing I’d eat soon seemed to reengage some vital link between my belly and my brain. I worried, then, about those for whom hunger is a real problem—the kind of challenge that recurs, persistent and corrosive. What would happen if I didn’t see an end in sight? How devastating to face hunger again and again without knowing if or when you’ll eat again. It’s not just a physical toll, it’s emotional too.

If this experience was designed to heighten my gratitude for food and drink, it did that in spades. I began to think of water as “beautiful, beautiful water.” I ran an errand one afternoon and the cashier was enjoying an icy beverage from a to-go cup—the clear kind with matching lid and a straw. The liquid inside was amber; I imagined it was an herbal tea of some sort. I made believe it was mint-flavored. I waited in her line, mesmerized by the sight of the frosty condensation gathered across the plastic. I could not look away as she picked up the drink. The spots where her fingers gripped displaced tiny beads of moisture causing larger droplets to snake down. Outside, the temperature was a bone dry 95 degrees and I was approaching my 13th hour with no water. I stared unabashedly as she lifted the straw to her lips and sucked. The sight caused a slight dampness to bloom at the back of my tongue, but it was too little to swallow.

After having been apart from water, my very first sip back offered instantaneous relief and pleasure. It was an uncomplicated homecoming. With food, the re-acquaintance process was more measured, as if the time away had somehow damaged my trust. Even though the last 30 minutes or so before the fast’s end were usually some of the most difficult mentally—a point at which my Willy Wonka fantasies often kicked into overdrive—when the hour finally struck, I approached my meals cautiously. I would start with something small like toast or dates and graduate to items with more substance. I would eat methodically, over the course of many hours, my satisfaction building gradually until, at last, I felt absolutely content.

I was so excited by my normal routine when Ramadan ended. No more middle of the night water chugging. I could hydrate whenever I wanted. I resumed drinking coffee, a ritual I hadn’t realized was so vital to my productivity and sense of wellbeing. My appreciation for lunch and mid-day snacks soared. To eat before one’s energy begins to flag struck me as a revelation. My thinking was sharper, my limbs more adept. I could take walks in the middle of the day. I was instantly more cheerful.

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8 thoughts on “Gratitude

  1. Corinna,

    I find these accounts to be well written and very appropriate, considering that this was a very personal experience. It does help us to be grateful for what we have, in the way of food, clothing, shelter, and fresh water to drink. When I pray with my Bible students, I always mention (especially to young ones), how important it is to be so appreciative of our spiritual AND physical benefits. So many people around the globe don’t know where the next meal is coming from.

    Did you get any advice about the significance of Ramadan? Were you aided in any way spiritually by a member of the faith or were you able to make a “connection” with Allah or the Koran? That, to me, would be the most important part of a spiritual experience.

    • Hi Cheri, Yes, it took some doing, but I did eventually find my way into mosques and relationships with Muslims who could provide guidance and more context for events like Ramadan…much more to come!!

  2. Good evening. Corinna…I’m glad you made it through Ramadan. The closest experience I have had to yours was the year I gave up pasta for Lent. Which happened to be 47 days that year, longer than usual. It doesn’t sound like much, does it? Rather trivial. But at the time I was a lacto-ovarian vegetarian, and the bulk of my menus consisted of pasta. It was amazing how much I thought of it, and wanted it, and desired it.

    I still remember the craving, and the temptation. Easter Sunday I had pasta for lunch, dinner, breakfast the next day, and every meal for a full week afterward.

    I am of two minds about how a spiritual ‘exercise’ like this is beneficial. It makes you supremely aware of your own fragility…of your connection to your body and your humanness. It also, for me at least, made me uber aware of how fluctuating my personal will power can be and how easy it is to fall to ‘temptation.’ And your comment about the hopelessness of hunger was what really struck me. To be aware of that connects you in the most intimate and personal way with every person who has ever suffered hunger or thirst. That was an important gift and one you will remember the rest of your life.

    Will you continue with Islam for more time, and as Cheri B. asks, are you getting any help? Continued good luck in your search.

    Yours in Christ

    • Hi Patti, I can imagine that even giving up one thing that’s a central part of your ordinary routine would be a huge challenge. Just giving up coffee for Ramadan alone was huge. If that had been all, I still would have struggled mightily. I think it’s the denial that shifts our perspectives. It’s so hard because our bodies are used to getting just about everything they want! They’re kind of bratty. Much more to come on Islam.

      • While I was reading that’s exactly what came to mind. It’s an exercise in self-discipline and shows that desire can be controlled (even if it’s very painful). Thus we can recognize when we are being driven by desire and determine to be driven by will instead. From the little I know about Islam, that seems to be an important component. How disciplined you are Corinna!

  3. Good. I look forward to it. And I will go to bed tonight with a smile on my lips over the thought of my ‘bratty’ body. I have heard the struggle with the body called many things, and I find ‘bratty’ to be one of the most descriptive yet.

    It was Palm Sunday and a really intense day at church, so I am drinking hot milk and heading for bed. Have a wonderful coming week.

    Yours in Christ,

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