…or is this year’s Ramadan kicking a lot of people’s butts? Is it the heat? I mean, I fasted in 115 degree Fahrenheit. But that doesn’t count, I was doing that with a much more relaxed pace while I was in Kuwait. We had lots of air conditioning too. I was excited that I’d spend a few days of Ramadan in Egypt. But I had I had no idea what I was in for during those first few days. I first moved across town in Cairo, then across the world. You wouldn’t believe how much stuff you collect in 7 months. I got rid of most of my stuff and some of the stuff was apartment stuff that I hope helped my roommate settle in comfortably in the new pad. Then I headed off hauling a giant dufflebag and broken suitcase thousands of miles. Within hours of arriving in California, I was working. I hit the ground running, school, work, catching up, and of course, Ramadaning. I fasted on top of the most extreme case of jet lag and ridiculous sleeping schedule. Then there was the culture shock. No Ramadan lights and no special Ramadan hours (well those can be annoying if you need to get anything done because everything is closed). Nothing slows down for us during Ramadan in the U.S.
Sometimes it is hard to feel the magic in the US when the people you love aren’t sharing the hunger and anticipation of eating with you. I have one of those grueling schedules that makes it near impossible to go iftar hopping, go to taraweh prayers at the mosque, go to any talks, let alone increase worship and self reflection. I guess for me it was hard because I felt the loneliness of being a Muslim convert, especially one that has not been embraced by a community. I’m not saying I don’t have friends, I have lots of them. But we are all now pretty dispersed and immersed in our own lives. My roommate threw a welcome back dinner during my first weekend back, and two of my Muslim friends showed up. But the tone of the event wasn’t very iftar-like. With transportation issues, I didn’t get to break fast with Muslims until dang near the last ten days. It made me kind of sad. I even teared up a bit, wondering where was the Ramadan spirit. This wasn’t just the Grinch who stole Ramadan! I landed in Who-ville where if you say Muslim, they’ll say, “Who?”
Ramadan during the heat was kind of hard. In San Jose, it was 106 the first weekend I got back. I thought I left Cairo’s heat behind. After the first week, Ramadan began to slowly run me down. It was that waking up at 4 for suhoor, the long parched days with your throat feeling like sandpaper, stomach gnawing itself into knots. I get light headed, forgetful, short tempered, fatigued… I spend all day walking around like a zombie, only to become comatose after eating. And then the indigestion! But still through all that, I realize I have it good. There are people who have nothing, they are breaking fast on some on contaminated water, on stale moldy bread, no meat for days…No I don’t think I should be complaining at all. People are really suffering and I’ve seen it, I walked past it, trying to numb myself to my own guilt, my inability or unwillingness to do something to help someone poor and begging, my own inadequacies.
As this Ramadan comes to a close, I have a bunch of resolutions brought on by some serious self reflection over this past long year. If all the shayatin are locked up, all we have is ourselves. We are exposed raw, to the shortcomings we have, our own frailties, our own foibles, our own limitations. As Ramadan comes to a close I am always filled with regret, wishing I had done more, hoping that Allah will accept my meager attempts at stepping up. This is such a pitiful offer, my days of hunger and thirst, in exchange for His bounty. Ramadan this year has not been easy for me, but there are many blessings, many lessons, many self discoveries. I wish I was much stronger to take it all on and knock at all those extra sunnah prayers, all those make-up prayers, all those readings, all that dhikr, all those hours in the masjid, etc. Instead, I feel like I’ve been given a good roughing up this Ramadan. But I can’t really look back with regret about how I fail short or look to the future with too much worry wondering if I will fall short. I hope next Ramadan I will have the strength to offer more to serve my Lord and His creation much better than I have done in the past. I know I have a long way to go, but I keep looking at each step in front of me. For me, that is the best way to travel down this road. I’m in no place to feel like I have anything on lock. No self righteousness here. Ramadan kicked my butt and handed me a big serving of humble pie. And that checking of the ego, no doubt, is a good thing.