On the one hand, fasting for twenty-four hours just afforded me the opportunity to witness a simple piece of gluten-free toast as an otherworldly experience of nourishment and satisfaction. On the other hand, I missed the toilet races at Hampdenfest this afternoon.
I haven’t always fasted on Yom Kippur, in fact, I mostly haven’t fasted on Yom Kippur. From the time I was of age, I had fasted just a few times until three or four years ago. I can’t remember why observing the holidays became important after years of non-observance. Perhaps it was a nod of respect to my roots and a way coming home, perhaps because I’d found fasting to be a useful spiritual practice through other traditions.
In a way, I’ve been looking for home since I moved away from Baltimore when I was eight, so it’s not surprising that I ended up back here at this time in my life, that I might now find myself on a glorious autumn Saturday afternoon with a headache, vacant gaze, and collapsing blood sugar levels, doing everything in my power not to let my car drift off of Smith Avenue into a mailbox or line of strollers as I drag myself to a temple. Living in a dozen other cities between the ages of eight and thirty-two gave me an appreciation for what makes this city so interesting, and such a fulfilling place to live.
In other contexts I’ve found fasting to be as much of a clarifying practice as a practice of redemption and gratitude. Fasting, like so many other things I learned from the wisdom of other traditions, was something the tradition of my upbringing had already thought of, had already worked out all the angles, and, if I wanted, could offer me thousands of pages of commentary on it. Like moving back to Baltimore, discovering mystical Judaism and its practical applications was something that I could not have appreciated without decades of learning it in other places.
All this to say that this year’s fast kind of sucked. I was annoyed and disconnected through most of it. Even the meditation, which usually moves me in some way, came up empty for me this year, despite it being expertly and sensitively run by a great teacher and friend. The afternoon service got on my nerves. What is all this singing about? Why is there a f*%@ing choir? If I wanted a choir I would have converted. And the old lady perfume assaulting me in the sanctuary. Lady, haven’t you been through enough Yom Kippurs to know better? Far from spending the day atoning, I was spending it catching up on being a jerk, in my own head at least.
I’m telling myself that sometimes it’s okay just to go through the motions, that I can give myself a gold star just for showing up. Being disappointed in myself or the practice because all I got out of it this time was a transcendent piece of toast would be missing the point entirely, maybe the greatest sin of all. Sometimes you need some mundane experiences to appreciate the divine, some distance to appreciate coming home, some sinning and being sinned against to appreciate the divinity that dwells in forgiveness.