Friday, December 4, 2015

Holding Fast

This is a story of how my son's Bible class wrecked my marriage (except that it didn't really . . . read on).

At my son's Quaker Local School, one of the required classes is on religion and the Bible.  I've been impressed my how much these classes have delved into non-Quaker religions.   (Okay, the school isn't actually technically "Quaker" -- that's a pseudonym I gave the place.  But it is a school that is run by a religious denomination that promotes pacifism, service to those who have less, and a commitment to respecting the diversity of the world's people.  So, sort of like a Quaker, but not actually).  At any rate, the boys have come home with study sheets on lots of different world religions, including but not only "quakerism".

This semester, the students in J-son's class were each encouraged to take on a large, experiential project.  From the list of many choices, J-son chose to undertake a two-day fast.  He and his dad talked about it all semester long.  His dad (my husband) has done fasts in the past with his men's group, and my guy offered to join in, to support J-son.

And so it was that last Saturday night, about a week ago, the men-folk in my home chowed down in a serious way, preparing themselves for a Sunday and Monday with no food.

I've done two, maybe three, 24-hour fasts in my life, long ago.  I don't remember much about those, except that I learned to carry over the idea of dealing with being hungry to non-fasting days.  About a month after one of my earlier fasts, I happened to be at a math conference where the organizers had just sort of . . . forgotten . . . that all the dining halls would be closed during the first morning.  Almost all of the mathematicians there were as irritable and angry as could be:  "how could they not feed us!!!"  And while I could totally understand how miserable they felt, I was surprised that I could feel hunger but not be miserable about it.  It was a rather happy and encouraging revelation.

So, Sunday morning, I decided, "What the heck?  I'll join the fast."

Not surprisingly, J-son was a wreck.  This kid -- who almost never eats breakfast, even when I beg him to -- woke up declaring he was ravenous.  We went to church, and came home, and he let us all know just how much all he wanted to do was eat.  Instead, we read books and then he called a friend, and went to that friend's home for distraction.  It turns out J-son's 48-hour fast ended up lasting 15 hours, the first 8 of which he was asleep. So.  So there was a lesson learned; perhaps not the same one the teacher intended, but nonetheless new knowledge about hunger and food and limits of endurance.

For my husband, the agony lasted longer; and "agony" was, to his surprise, the right word for the fast this time around.  My guy learned late about the early end to J-son's fast, and the moment he heard, he headed for the kitchen himself.   Twenty hours without food is not easy.

I say that, and I think about people --- some of whom I know --- who go hungry regularly for reasons that have nothing to do with choice.  There are school children in my city who dread the holidays because it means that school lunches stop for a week or more.  There are students at my college who feel guilty about having three meals a day, knowing their families back home can't do the same.  A child we had tried to adopt, X-son down in Haiti, survived the 2010 earthquake in a bizarre twist of fate when his school principal declared there was only enough food in the building for small children.  The principal shooed away the older kids to scavenge, and X-son was sad and dismayed, because he was so hungry and wished he'd been allowed to stay and eat.  That day at lunch, the earthquake killed everyone left in his school.  X-son fled into the hills and has since survived typhoid, beatings, and much more hunger.  Fasting seems like a personal torture, and yet I also worry that it is somehow demeaning, like I'm playing at a game that is all too real for far too many people.

But anyway -- or maybe, "so, therefore" -- I continued.  I decided not to go for a full 48 hours, mostly because I had a mind-numbing, soul-sucking committee call scheduled for noon on Monday, and I figured having a brain would be more important than proving I was a 48-hour brand of toughness.  I went to sleep Sunday night with weird dreams of nestled spoons and nesting children running through my brain.  I woke Monday morning and did my usual morning run with my friend June.  I decided I didn't have enough brain left for a blog post, but I did email and even do a little math.  And then at 9 a.m., I ate breakfast.

The rest of the day Monday, not surprisingly, I ate more and caught up on work and I also slept a lot.

And then Tuesday I divorced my husband because he left me with the dishes.

Okay, actually, I didn't really divorce him, but I wanted to.  In fact, here's the email that I wrote him that afternoon:

[Something about taking N-son to speech therapy] 
Also, I washed the rice pot, and J-son's brownie pan, and filled up the dishwasher, and cleaned the mess off the stove. 
My head is really not in a good space today, so I'm not going to say any more.

Which, if you read between the lines (and my husband did read between the lines) said, "She's furious!".   Now that I look back at this, I think it's pretty amazing that he can understand me so well, which is part of saying that we truly do have an awesome marriage.  And of course, while waking up to a pile of dirty dishes is no fun, I was totally out of my skull to react so severely that I was thinking that the kitchen was a reason that I ought to leave home.  At least I had the brains to shut up and not go publicly berserk, and give myself time to get my head all better again.

And by Wednesday and Thursday, I was back to normal, but also watching my head carefully just to see if other crazy stuff had lodged there during my 36-hour vacation from food.  I think I'm okay again now.

So I learned something about hunger and food and limits of endurance, too.   Good.

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