Fasting is Hard
Just before Kol Nidre services began on Friday evening, I had a conversation with a friend about whether it was appropriate to wish someone “an easy fast” for Yom Kippur. She mentioned that her son thought fasting shouldn’t be easy if Yom Kippur was to be meaningful; my position was that an easy fast allowed someone to focus on the difficult work of atonement for wrongdoing.
And then I had a very difficult fast; as I noted last night, just after it ended and just as I was about to fall asleep, it was one of the more difficult fasts I can recall. It started out just fine and didn’t become unbearable until mid-afternoon. But there were still more than four hours of extreme discomfort.
Why was this fast more difficult than usual for me? I came up with four reasons:
1) Weight loss:
In the past, I weighed more than I do now. Having lost what I think is a significant amount of weight, I have less “in reserve” than I once did. This isn’t particularly scientific, but I don’t remember my fasts being nearly so difficult several years ago when I was overweight.
2) Insufficient pre-fast meal:
In previous years, we were either invited to someone else’s house to a pre-fast meal or I had time the day before Yom Kippur to cook for the family; this year, with the fast beginning on a day when I was teaching, I didn’t have time to make a dinner that would stick with me. I’m looking at recipes now for next year.
I didn’t “step down” my coffee intake in the days before Yom Kippur; combining the total absence of caffeine with the total absence of water led to a blinding headache that began around 2pm.
This is the kicker. Kids don’t fast … which means that, while I’m fasting, I’m also preparing food for my children all day. This is pretty terrible. But there’s a further challenge that only occurred to me yesterday: My kids wake up ridiculously early, usually between 5:15 and 5:45am. We’ve tried everything to break them of this habit, but there’s nothing to be done for it. If I had my way, I’d wake up around 8:30am on Yom Kippur. But I don’t get to choose. And what this means is that I’m awake and functioning, burning calories that I don’t have available to burn, for an extra three hours.
To get back to the discussion that opened this post, I have to say that an easy fast would have meant a far more meaningful holiday for me. This year — with thanks to my kids who napped and to my wife who took them outside to play when they awoke — I was either on the couch or in bed from 2-5pm; I wasn’t thinking about atonement so much as I was trying to nap or thinking about my hunger, my thirst, and my headache.
I’m hoping that next year I’ll find a way to deal with a few of these issues so that Yom Kippur, never a favorite holiday, isn’t just something I’m desperately trying to get through.