Family reunions are amazing, especially those that involve several generations of family members. Reunions in Ramadan are doubly so, perhaps because of the spiritual nature of the month itself, which rubs off on everyone, whether they are fasting or not. Last week I wrote about my own imminent family reunion, with my mother, grandmother, sisters, children, nieces and nephews getting together for a fasting and Eid extravaganza like never before.
For the last several weeks, I had been anticipating the arrival of both the month of Ramadan as well as my various family members with a mixture of eagerness and trepidation. How will we have fun without the typically fun aspects of shopping and eating out that we all gravitate towards? Will tempers flare, will we want to spend time with each other when exhaustion sets in? Most importantly for me, will I be able to do full justice to the rigors of Ramadan or will I get distracted by small pleasures like spending time with my family?
Obviously I was giving voice to some last minute doubts. No wonder my husband had been horrified at the thought of my family reunion.
“Couldn’t they visit us any other time?”
Anyway, the waiting is over, some of my esteemed guests have arrived, and so has the most sacred month of the year. As expected, it was a blissful meeting, with more to come in later days because everyone is scheduled to arrive at various days. Doubts have vanished, life is back to normal – as much as it can be after adding fasting and rambunctious children to the mix. For the first time in a long time, I am content. Good things sometimes come in very large packages, it seems.
That’s not to say fasting isn’t a challenge this year. Fasting is always challenging, which is why I refer to it as a spiritual boot camp. I believe that the blessings associated with Ramadan are so immense simply because the effort required is so great, and once in a while when I meet someone who finds fasting easy it doesn’t cease to fill me with incredulity. Fasting is supposed to be difficult, isn’t it? When I was younger I used to say I love Ramadan, not because I found it easy but because I reveled in the hardship, knowing and hoping for the reward. Feeling myself become stronger in body and spirit, leaving behind petty irritations and inconsequential matters and focusing on God. Unfortunately now that I have kids, it’s a different matter. Ramadan has taken on a slightly more stressful tone now, because I fail the anger management aspect of it almost on a daily basis. This year there are not only my own children but my sister’s as well, so things are bound to be interesting.
Witnessing my family fasting together has enabled me to see Ramadan in a different light, and led to some notions I haven’t considered before. During Ramadan, we often tend to focus on those who are fasting, and we who fast think it’s all about us… our hunger, our dedication, our promise of heaven. With my four generations of family members spending this holy month together, and with my older son now old enough to be asking hundreds of questions, I’m becoming more aware that this month is also for those who are not fasting. My old, sickly grandmother said to me on the first of Ramadan: “You are so lucky you can fast. Perhaps I could wake up at suhoor to pray tahajjud and partake of some of those blessings myself.” At 85 I know waking up that early is not good for her health either, but she feels the absence of fasting so sorely that I understand her need to be a part of it in some form or the other. She is an amazingly strong, intelligent, pioneering woman who probably also told people she loved Ramadan in her younger days, and I feel her pain almost as if it was my own.
Then there’s my seven-year-old son, who is worrying about my ability to fast, and wondering when he will be old enough to do so. He’s not only smart but also very serious; the type of child who can play video games one minute and discuss the concept of life after death the next with equal intensity. He told me he wants to fast because he wants God to be happy with him. When I explained why he’s too young to fast, he was saddened by the thought of missing those blessings; then he thought of a way to earn some heavenly points by being extra good so that I don’t lose my temper while fasting. “I can’t fast right now but I’ll help you fast, mommy!” he told me.
Lovely. I need all the help I can get.
So I have decided that I, who can fast, should try this Ramadan to remember those who can’t. Many of the ‘exempt from fasting’ group – the old, the sick, the pregnant, the young – are feeling real regret at the loss of Ramadan, the absence of that spiritual high one gets as the hunger and thirst sets in. I truly believe that those who follow God’s commandment to not fast are as equal and beloved in His eyes as those who obey Him and fast. So this month in between my own worship I’ll try to spend some time with my grandmother and my son, helping them both find ways to experience Ramadan without the fasting. And I’m pretty sure I’ll learn something along the way as well.