Ramadan is almost over, and as ever, I find myself wondering, how did that happen? Time does pass slower when you’re fasting, but it is the hours that slow down – especially during the long summer afternoons. The days seem to fly past. And today I looked at the schedule tacked onto the fridge and realized there are only a couple of days left to Eid.
As with every year that this month comes to a close, there are regrets about not making the most of this time, about not celebrating this month as it should be celebrated, as if there were only one way to celebrate. The Ramadan blues descend. This month used to be much happier, I think, and then I realize, of course, I remember it that way because I had fewer responsibilities then. No work, no bills, no rent, no worries, no anxieties about the uncertain future.
This Ramadan has not been spent in the serenity of meditation and ‘ibadah, or taking part in those big happy iftars with family and friends, or having suhur and taking a walk at fajr. Last summer, Ramadan was a more than welcome break. It gave me a month worth of quiet restful time to think. This summer, I am revising my dissertation for the final time. Consequently, I have spent most of the month in front of the glare of a computer screen, some of the time fasting twenty hours. I’ve never had trouble fasting. But twenty hours without coffee when trying to get work done…let me tell you, that has not been fun.
I’m just taking this month off, I kept thinking, as I rewrote passages and looked up references and fixed phrasing. I’m just not in the mood. Forget celebrating this year, it’s not happening, I’m just living through this month and doing the best I can. And Eid? It’ll be one more day. I might take a few hours off, but then back to the grind. I don’t have time to celebrate.
And what do we have to celebrate?
Things are bad. Things are bad in so many places. Just in the last few days, there have been horrendous attacks in Turkey, Dhaka, Baghdad. I hear of relatives fasting in the summer heat, without electricity, living through a chaotic time that has turned a once hopeful country into warring tribes. And I’m here. What reason is there to what I’m doing? What hope is there for the future?
Ramadan brings all the existential questions. And I have no answers. I don’t know. But I can probably fix this next little part of my dissertation, if I concentrate on just this one passage and block everything else out.
The adhan breaks the silence. I close the laptop and go warm up my iftar. Then the doorbell rings. I open it. The neighbour’s little girl is there, holding out a plate of shibakiya, Moroccan sweets. She grew up here and can’t always bring to mind the formulaic Arabic phrases learned young. And then there is the distance of our different dialects. So she searches for equivalent words. Iftar…sa’eed, she says, awkwardly, but smiling. Happy iftar.
The little girl takes back some of the iftar we have made to her mother in a container, which will be returned tomorrow, over-generously filled. And I remember my mother’s stories of back home, when children were sent to the neighbours with food, exchanging plates so the whole street would break their fast with someone else’s gift, because that would bring blessings to those who sent and those who received.
This year, my Ramadan has been stitched together from long hours of work and doubt and questions, but also small moments like this…moments of community and friendship and kindness. And in such dark times, these small moments matter more than ever.