Every year I start to approach Ramadan, the month of fasting and patience, with feelings of suppressed excitement and increased goodwill towards my fellow muslims. I feel a renewed faith in humanity; I remember the previous times someone reached out to me at this generous time of year and made me feel welcome. Somehow, I feel, this may be the year that I really connect and feel a part of the community, make some true friends to support each other in our faith. Maybe, I even dare to think, a connection to a future husband? My optimism knows no bounds. I long too for the lightness and peacefulness of fasting, another chance this year to shed any undesirable habits I have accumulated and wrongdoings I look back on with regret, the yearly deep cleaning wudu of my soul to help me correct my worship and my patience.
Then reality sets in. By the 11th day I am feeling increasingly isolated and deficient. The first few days accustoming my body to the fasting and merely occupied with getting through the day have passed and the lightness of my body has been restored, but my soul seems to have gone the other direction. My initial enthusiasm reaching out in all directions of my main muslim community, the vast online ummah, has been left mere grasping at air as many people disconnect from their online distractions and focus on their families and their own communities, the many preparations and tasks of Ramadan in the real vs. virtual world.
I am forced to reflect not only on the happy connections made on some previous Ramadans, but the fact that they are very few and far between and those connections no longer exist. Each one tentatively forged has burned out in one way or another at my hand. It is true, my spiritual growth and religion seems to have improved slightly over the passing of the years, or so it seems, but this is an area I must hesitate to congratulate myself on as all my human mistakes do lie underneath, and any success may slip away at any time. And my ability to form lasting connections with others, never a strong point, seems to have crumbled even further.
Working up the courage to attend any community event has always been something both physically and emotionally draining and ultimately more depressing as it tends to drive the point home even further. Grappling with my health conditions this year just to complete fasting has left me wondering if I really must summon the energy to dare to try again to venture into the world of local muslims, perhaps a new mosque or a new gathering, just to see if something will be different this time, even though I realize I am the common denominator in my own life. I feel an obligation to do something, but there are enough practical difficulties (also known as excuses) in the way that I haven’t yet forced myself to do so this year.
As a single mother, there is also the urgency that with each passing year I spend mostly alone, I’m condemning my child to a similar fate at the hands of his socially inept mother: Where are the little friends I should have recruited for him? The playgroups and other families with kids growing up together? I feel particularly guilty about my lack of ability to provide for him a male muslim role model, which will assuredly only grow more pressing as time goes on. Even more so about providing the sense of normalcy that our religion is not merely a construct of his painfully introverted mother, but something that is beloved by people all over the world.
In the end I turn back to Allah again with renewed vigor, seeking a way to be able to connect with the people around me without alienating them, for guidance in my few relationships and pleading for a human source of support, friendship, love–but only if that is truly the best thing for me and my son in this life and the next. It is only in Ramadan that the sense of isolation increases so much, for most of rest of the year I am content to realize these days that what I have is good, and if that is all I ever have, it will be enough. And perhaps this is the reason for all my strain… to turn back to Allah again and again for help with my biggest challenge, and to realize ultimately again and again that there are more important things. That though I must keep reaching out to other people to satisfy a part of my human need for contact, my help must be for them and not to fill an emptiness in myself. That happiness cannot be found in other people, and when I seek it there, I will be disappointed. Perhaps only when I truly learn to stop seeking it there at times of loneliness, will I find a relationship I cannot destroy.