Wednesday, 26 September 2007

And the blessings go on...

Today, I will pick up my car with a new engine in it. Replaced under warranty.

Today, a check was sent for a freelance job I completed a few weeks ago.

Today, I will break the fast with friends at an Iftar celebration.

Today, I had a nice long phone call from an old friend who lives far away.

Today, I doppped my daughters off at their schools and came to work safely despite a blinding downpour.

Today, work has gone well.

Today, I have had music to listen to all day while I worked.

Today, I have fasted.

And the blessings go on.

Day 13 of Ramadan, September 26th, 2007

Dreaming from a photo

I saw this photo, and instantly I was there. I could feel the cool breeze, the warmth of the chair which had sat in the sun. I could smell the scent of floweres and greenry nearby, and off in the distance the sharp tang of freshly cut grass. I could see all around me...the old stones, the moisture on the water glasses as it slid toward the table, the view from the balcony overlooking the valley below. I could feel the anticipation as I awaited a friend to join me there for a meal and long talk.

All from a photo. One photo. Vacation in a frame.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Love, life and Ramadan

This morning as I was getting ready for work, it occurred to me that life, and even more specifically, love, is a lot like Ramadan. Or at least it should be....

There is so much we want in life, and most of us want it RIGHT NOW! When the desire happens, we want the fulfillment. It could be a new car, a bigger house, a new outfit or a better job.

In love, we have an idea of the kind of relationship we want, and maybe even the person with whom we want it.

Our society tells us we have the right to "Right Now!". Instant food, instant approval on car loans, instant make-overs, instant information downloads. We get impatient waiting even a few minutes, and Madison Avenue reinforces that hurry-up attitude with ever faster and faster everything.

I always thought I had good self control. Now I am thinking maybe not.

From Ramadan, I am learning to control my desires. To postpone what I want (or maybe even believe I need) until the right time. I am learning to deal with temptation and wait patiently (ok, sometimes patiently!) for what I want.

And I am reaping the benefits. The sweetness of the dates, and the cold smoothness of the milk as I break the fast each night is like nothing I've ever experienced.

The food has not changed.

I have.

And I hope I can carry this experience into the rest of my life.

The value of a long awaited purchase. The fruit of a patiently saved balance in my bank account, instead of the fleeting joy of a spur of the moment purchase. A vacation planned months in advance, allowing me to savour each day as it grows closer.

And above all, the sweetness of love when it is the right time, instead of right now or when I think it ought to be time.

Ramadan is about lessons. I knew that from the start. I only hope that when the season is over and there is no reason to control my hunger or thirst each day, the lessons will stay with me.

Monday, 24 September 2007

11 days of Ramadan and counting

Last night, I attended my first Iftar celebration. It was in the home of one of our Project Downtown members.

For three hours, we shared food and Salat and drink and conversation and laughter. We sipped hot mint tea and talked over the details of our days. This was a women's two daughters and I welcomed into a circle that included a few friends, some acquaintances and some women we just met. The women ranged from my daughter (aged 9) to several moms of teens and 20-somethings.

It was an amazing experience.

As Ramadan moves into its second third, I am amazed at the changes I've experienced.

  • I've learned to follow a chart of times to eat and drink, instead of surrendering to the demands of my body.

  • I've learned to focus on the moment -- a profound lesson in mindfulness.

  • I've discovered how very little we need to eat to survive and thrive and am amazed at the vast amount we usually eat in contrast.

  • I've learned gratitude for that first sip of milk and first bite of a date at the end of the day.

  • I've learned the value of community, as we encourage each other along this season of fasting.

  • I've learned humbleness when a homeless man, so impressed by the concept of fasting, decided to fast with us, despite the fact that his daily life already includes hunger and insufficient food.

  • I've been imnpressed by the fortitude of my eldest daughter's fast, as she pushes her way through hunger and thirst through school days and household chores.

  • And I am touched and grateful for the Iftar invitations that have been arriving daily as people learn that we have joined the fast.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

On the 8th day of Ramadan

Today has been the hardest day so far.

I ate before dawn, but clearly not the right stuff. Shakey, sleepy, very thirsty. But I am getting through. The process is more important than my momentary comfort.

I just had a weird experience. I was updating my Facebook and the new app asked for my religion. I sat there for 10 minutes marking and unmarking two different boxes. I could not commit to where I have been for all these years, nor to where it seems I am going. I finally settled on "Multireligious" (yes that was one of the choices!) for now.

I feel that I am straddling a crevasse, trying to keep one foot on either side. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately?) the gap is widening and it is about time for me to make a choice.

That's what this fast is all about. Choices.

MENSA -- What is everyone so afraid of?

I just paid my Mensa renewal dues.

Being a member of Mensa is a big secret for most of us. I can talk to a stranger at a party and tell them that I am a criminial, an atheist, a puppy hater or a Republican (I am none of those, BTW!) but if I say I am a member of Mensa, I am instantly looked at as either:

Stuck up


Why is okay to confess our sins to total strangers or brag about our skills in the gym, on the tennis court or even in bed, but so wrong to admit to being smart?

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Ramadan, Day 7

It's amazing how quickly we've adapted to the schedule of Ramadan. This morning at 5:30, my 16 year old daughter, who is also observing the fast, came into my room.

"Have you eaten yet, Mommy?" And a while later...

"It's 6. We have until 6:11. Do you want some more water?"

One week since the observance started, and our mornings have changed from a quick Pop-Tart and cup of tea on the way out the door to a real breakfast at 5:30 a.m. And an eye on the schedule posted on the fridge and the clock. No one is questioning whether they could grab another glass of water at 6:12, even though it's only a minute later. The precision of the times makes it impossible to ignore.

And it feels natural. It has already become a part of our routine.

As has the evening, when we watch the time as we prepare dinner.

"Time to break the fast", one of us will say. And the milk comes out, and the dates, and we snack gratefully on those as we get dinner on the table.

Our appetites are diminished, but what we do eat tastes so good, as though we are noticing the flavours and textures for the first time.

Ramadan has already changed us in ways we never anticipated. We expected hunger, thirst, maybe a headache. Some grumpiness. But instead, we've discovered a soothing routine, a schedule to make us aware of food and water and time and commitment. Yes, we have experienced hunger. And at times, the thirst becomes almost unbearable.

But mostly we have discovered an order and peace we had not expected. But have quickly come to cherish.

And on the lighter side....

A satire for all those horrible CNN subtitled interviews in Iraq...

Interview with a terrorist, with subtitles

Thank you Blog Drive Bys for posting this!

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Living Ramadan

Today is Day 6 of Ramadan. My first Ramadan. Not the first I've known of, but my first fast. Before I was an observer. Now I am a part of this amazing tradition.

I got up at 5 this morning and ate a small breakfast. Less than a week into Ramadan, and it's already hard to eat very much at one time. Three glasses of water later, and it was time to start the day's fast.

The first day I was dizzy and lightheaded a few times. Now I just feel incredible. My mind is more peaceful than I can ever remember. My breath is slower. My sleep is better. Like the artist mentioned in a BeliefNet article, I feel transparent and hollow, cleaned out of all that is unessential.

And I am hungry.

Not for food. You thought I was going to say food. Nope.

I can talk about food, shop for food, even cook food, and I am able to wait until the proper time to break the fast. Last night I started making dinner before the fast ended and yet I got through all the prep without tasting one single bite. Food has become far less essential than ever before.

No, what I am hungry for are answers. And inspiration. And a clarity of purpose.

What am I doimg here in Ramadan? What am I to learn? How can G-d use my hunger and thirst to teach me things I need to learn? How can I understand the lessons and make the changes I need to make?

And where am I going after this?

My exploration of Islam began 7 years ago in a diner in rural central Pennsylvania. I was curious. I asked a waiter some questions. He told me I would make a wonderful Muslim and he let me borrow a copy of the Quar'an. I read it in a week. More questions. The waiter left to return to Egypt. I decided I needed to learn Arabic so I bought some books. I did not learn Arabic.

In the years since then, my questions have grown more numerous. Teachers have entered and left my life. Some remain. Some new ones have entered recently. I am studying Arabic at the University now, and finally learning.

I am living Ramadan as I fast. And as I feed the hungry and homeless with Project Downtown members on the streets each weekend. And as I read and think and pray. And I will experience another aspect in the next few days, as I attend my first Iftar celebrations. I am aware that I am part of a wonderful tradition stretching back centuries.

I will be blogging about this experience for the rest of Ramadan, in hopes that writing about my experience will help me to see the lessons and understand the purpose for this fast in a very personal way.

Bragging about my son

My son, who just graduated from high school, is working on the Weird Al concert in PA today! He's an aspiring lighting designer, working at a theatre company doing lighting design and going to school. I am so proud of him. So Nicky, this YouTube is for you!