For the past 24 hours I ate no food for Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement. I feared this would be challenge. I always fear it. Despite spending over half the day with a splitting sinus headache from allergies and being unable to take medications or water, it was a relatively easy fast.
Some friends and acquaintances ask why I fast, especially since I tend to be a bit lax with other Jewish laws. I admit to doing it partly out of religious obligation, but I have also developed other reasons that may or may not be tied to the origins for the fast. As a food lover who lives in a relatively comfortable lifestyle in the first world, I never really want food. "Starving" for me really means going an hour or two longer that I would like for a meal. It means my stomach growls while I teach class. I don't take this luxury lightly, and an annual fast gives me the opportunity to contemplate how lucky I am to have food. When I use the hyperbole "There's nothing to eat in the house," with my wife, it really means I'm being unusually picky about what I want to eat. I understand that drinking filtered water to pacify my appetite so I won't eat a carton of ice cream too close to going to bed so I won't gain weight or have bad dreams seems absurd when people in our country can't get clean water and people in other countries can't get water at all. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, I wake up thirsty, but I won't drink the water next to my bed because it's been there a couple of days. Again, a luxury.
So I fast. I feel weak and relatively tired. I think that a simple pill and a glass of water will make me feel better. But I resist. I suffer. And I'm glad. I feel one infinitesimal piece of the suffering others less fortunate may feel. It reminds me to be grateful for what I have. And I am.
There is more. A fast also forces me to focus on my body. I become acutely aware of where my head hurts. A the day wears on I become more aware of my blood circulating without caffeine or carps or fat. I don't have endorphins floating around from chocolate. It is just me. Maybe I'm imagining things, but I feel like there's more room for oxygen in my bloodstream. Despite the way I feel physically, I feel good.
Late in the day, my wife and I take a hike in a nearby nature center, For-Mar. My body does surprisingly well. I am glad to be in nature, even if this spot is like a zoo for trees and animals that are unfortunate enough to be trapped in suburbia. Even without food or water, I feel like I could walk for hours, but we play it on the safe side. My wife, nine months pregnant, would probably not like staying all day, though knowing For-Mar has become my synagogue, I know she would stay as long as I'd like. We walk for an hour.
We return home and shortly after sunset, my wife makes a full dinner for us. My sister-in-law brought some cake by earlier in the day, and we have that for dessert. I'm back to my other life, but I have a recent reminder, a poinient experience to remember how fortunate I am in mind and body and spirit.