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Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Willpower and Success: Yom Kippur Fast

Last night both girls went to services with me and my friends. As I mentioned, I go every year. I go to a nice liberal synagogue where the rabbi is a lesbian with adopted black children and nobody talks about Zionism. It's not embarrassing to be Jewish in a place like that.

The 12th grader wanted to fast, and then the 8th grader got curious about it, too. Of course they did. They are teenaged girls. I was not planning to fast today. I haven’t fasted since high school, when dieting was a way of life anyway. I have avoided it partly because I tend to get shaky if I don’t eat; partly out of fear of triggering a dormant eating disorder; and partly because I assumed I lack the necessary self-control to make it for a day without eating, so why confirm the worst? Also, partly because I just don't care. I'm a secular agnostic atheist Jew. 

This year, though, I was thinking about fasting more seriously than I have. Someone I sort of know mentioned she likes to fast because it helps her to feel grateful for all that she has and reminds her that other people go hungry every day. Very noble. More noble than I, or at least than I intended to be.  She got me thinking, though, and then the kids were interested.

Of course the 12th grader's comment was, “I’ll sleep ’til noon and then it won’t be that hard.” So when I woke up this morning I resisted food. I didn’t even have my morning glass of water. I decided that I could make it until noon. If my kids were going to sleep away half their fasts, I could just half-fast. And I made it until noon. It really wasn’t hard, especially once I allowed myself the treat of reading Pride and Prejudice in bed, instead of going for a run/walk. Then I found some Crest white strips in the bathroom and I put them in for two hours. I meditated for awhile. 

Finally, noon arrived and I made coffee with soy milk. I ate a tiny bit of muffin, too. And then the girls woke up and proceeded not to eat. Somehow that strengthened my resolve. They both have such great willpower. The 8th grader asked me to make her a grilled cheese sandwich around 1pm; but when the 12th grader said, “Oh come on, it’s only five hours until dinner,” she thought better of it. And I thought I could wait, too. Willpower is contagious, I guess. 

I think of myself as pretty weak-willed. I’m not big into deprivation. It makes me feel so lonely.  And the specter of reviving an eating disorder does lurk. I don’t want to go there. However, it feels pretty good to be getting through this day. Unfortunately, according to what I learned at temple last night, I’m not actually fasting correctly. This involves abstaining from water, food, sex, bathing for pleasure, and sex. I realize I wrote "sex" twice. I meant to add "leather." So coffee with soy milk and tiny bit of muffin technically means I broke my fast. 

Do I care? 

Is this a spiritual lesson? I mean, I’m thinking about my diet, my waistline, what the scale might say if I actually had a scale. I’m thinking that I can probably eliminate some snacking every day. These are very self-centered thoughts. Furthermore, it's clear that the 8th grader is competing with her sister, and I don't want them to totally show me up, either. None of the three of us knows why we're suppose to avoid leather today. This seems random and nonsensical. 

But. I am learning that I can actually get past my urges and that I have more willpower than I thought. That feels good. It is useful to know that I can force myself to endure a little hardship. I now know that I could get through much worse from necessity if I can push myself through this little thing by choice. We all want to know we’re made of strong stuff, and I have suspected that I really, really ain’t. No strong stuff here. I mean, beyond enduring childhood and all that. Maybe I’m wrong, though. Maybe I can have more confidence in my stuff. Maybe it is stronger than I thought. And I know that if others around me show their strong stuff, I can gain strength from that, too.

The 16-year-old is working on college essays on an empty stomach. The 13-year-old has just bathed - not for pleasure, I assure you, but out of necessity. She is torturing both of us by talking about grilled cheese and her “famous” (at least around our family) pesto sandwiches. I’m thinking about tuna and my mouth is filling with saliva; but we will be strong. We will make it. 

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