On Reflection: A Non-Muslim's One Day of Ramadan

I set my alarm for 5:00 a.m. and change the associated ringtone to something unfamiliar to startle me awake. I never sleep past 8:30 a.m., but I'm incapable of waking up before 8 a.m.. My wake-up window is indicative of the regimented way I live many facets of my life. But how I have fasted for Ramadan over the years is out of character, inconsistent.

I was born and raised in Iowa by a Middle-Eastern, Muslim father and an American, Catholic mother. Like my blue eyes, and pale skin, I inherited my mother's culture. And though I've retained an appreciation for Islam, Middle-Eastern culture and cooking, I don't consider myself Muslim and, without proficiency in Arabic, I have trouble substantiating that I am Middle-Eastern. I have my father. I have my name.

Through my 20s, I've fasted for Ramadan three days total. I've participated for superficial reasons: because my father asked me to, with a curious coworker, and to prove I could.

I resolve that this time -- the last fast of my 20s -- will be different, that I will approach it mindful of how it connects me to my family and my heritage; I will try to morph discomfort to empathy. At very least, I will write down what I feel.

I begrudgingly wake up for Suhoor (pre-dawn meal) at 4:53 a.m., anticipating my alarm. I open my refrigerator to pull out a tub of Sabras hummus, a block of feta cheese, and two hard-boiled eggs, which I combine in a dry pita. I'm taken back to the couple of times I ate Suhoor with my father as a kid. This morning is a sad, sharp contrast from that spread: dates, fresh fruit, labneh, and konafah.

But more than anything, sitting at my table, I am struck by loneliness. Living in New York City, it's not uncommon to see people alone at dinner. Even when they seem happy, I can't help but feel lonely for them. For a second, I think about my father and all those years we grew up in the same house and he had this meal alone. And then, a non sequitur, I drift to thinking of cab drivers. The thousands of practicing Muslims in New York who eat this meal not only alone but on the job and how blind I am to it. I go back to sleep for an hour feeling a little guilty.

When I brush my teeth I am fanatical about not swallowing any water. I iterate in my head that I want to do this correctly. I'm not quite sure why.

The 10-hour workday is fine; I'm thirsty but not terribly hungry. There's a lot going on with little time for reflection. This is maybe more indicative of how Western I am than I spend time thinking about. That thought causes me to spiral a bit.

I have some time before Iftar (break fast) to sit at home. Like any other day, I scroll through my social networks -- sifting through selfies, animal videos, and Kickstarter campaigns. Lately, every post is uncharacteristically politicized. The unrest in the Middle East is frustratingly front and center. Frustrating because statements are articulated like they've been posted by political scientists and researchers, instead of friends who are bartenders, bankers and marketers. I recognize my lacking expertise on the conflict and stay mum, wishing for a second that I had the background to refute what read like incredible fallacies. I wish I could simply say that the politicized and misleading articles that suggest either side is the only one wanting peace are manipulations; everyone, even my friends (many without a direct connection to the region), have an agenda. They're invested. And I feel many things; at different times of the day, through polarizing tweets, the half Palestinian in me swells whole. But still, I say nothing.

My sister meets me for Iftar, which I have at a Middle-Eastern restaurant. The food is almost as good as what my grandmother made, and that's mostly what we talk about it. For a moment we speculate how our 70-year-old father can fast the full thirty days without ever complaining to us. I begin to feel badly about not checking in with him more frequently or thoroughly -- again, ashamed of what feels very much like selfishness, a lack of empathy.

When I texted my father that I choose to fast, he responded, "Good for you. Will teach you patience."

I'm not sure that one day of anything can teach patience, and I know that I haven't gained anything profound. It seems that most of my day was spent reflecting on what I don't have or what I've lost. I feel all the wrong things at all of the wrong times: loneliness, guilt and shame -- more disconnect than connection.

The following day a friend asks, "How was it? Were you hungry?"

"It was fine," I smile. The hunger I felt in my stomach? That was always secondary.