About 4 hours into a day where I spoke pretty much constantly to a group of schoolchildren about energy, I took a massive swig of water from my flask in front of them. Immediately I was asked: “Are you aware that half of us are on Ramadan?”
A lot of people are fasting right now, not even taking in water during daylight. I had forgotten, although in the year that Grenfell burnt I tried to do it myself. Back then I wanted to have an understanding of what so many people have to go through. I’m not a devout Muslim though, and the Imam I spoke to told me I had to do it to the Mecca clock, which involved setting my alarm at like 2.45 am to drink a litre of water and go back to sleep. (I’ve subsequently been told by an angry Doctor Jesus in Saudi that he was an unhelpful Imam.). I had no close Muslim friends to advise me or to share Iftar in my area. I sat on my own in my flat and ate things I had cooked hungry at the end of my fast, clutching a draconian printout of the times in Mecca from the London Central Mosque. It was all a bit stark doing it on my own. There’s a shared hardship and shared joy that goes with Ramadan, but I was just a tourist I guess. I lasted until the Grenfell fire which was only a short way in, and then that morning I went to volunteer in the local area. It was hot. Lots of young men on my team were Muslim, coming into a Methodist Church to help sort clothes. I was seriously impressed by their devotion – to do good deeds in the heat, and to drink no water and eat no food… I began to fuel myself again, telling myself it was exceptional circumstances and I didn’t have a faith. But also it is hard and I’d had enough. It’s a huge thing to put yourself through for your faith. It’s impressive and powerful that people still do it. The other 50% of that class didn’t even mark Lent. I betcha. Most self professed Christians don’t do the difficult devotional stuff these days. They just use it as a club.
You couldn’t do a proper Ramadan fast and not come away with a strong handle on your urges to consume. I tried to look after those young men who gave their time sorting things next to Grenfell. I tried to find places for them to work that were comfortable, because they’d have worked hard anywhere and that spring was HOT. The vicar of that church was absent the whole time and I ended up organising things. I kept hearing people apologise to me. “I’m sorry I haven’t been to church lately, vicar,” they said. The part of me that was literally almost a vicar just smiled back at them: “Jesus will always be waiting. You’re here now. Thank you. We’re open for you.” I suspect some of them came to services afterwards and were surprised I wasn’t there. I stopped coming in to go manage a restaurant floor at Royal Ascot. With my beard and my ability to quote bible verses, I could probably have passed as a good fire-and-brimstone preacher if needed. Hell, I’d have even done a sermon with 24 hours notice, but it might have been my downfall as I honestly haven’t got a clue what the nuance is about Methodism. It’s likely just a scripture quibble, but millions of people have died over quibbles. “The bread is literally Christ’s body!” “No it’s just a helpful metaphor!” “DIE HERETIC! AND YOUR FAMILY!”
“I’m sorry,” I replied to the student in the first sentence of this blog. “It’s thoughtless of me to drink water in front of you.”
AndI meant it. I loved the school I went to today. Often with these urban schools the students can be angry and distracted. This lot were like that, but they somehow kept their sense of fun within it. The mischief they were making could include me – it wasn’t just to try to puncture a notional authority figure. I enjoyed myself but… It’s exhausting. The teacher even commented on it: “We never have to radiate the whole day like that.”
I’m knackered. Day is over though. Sweet sweet bedtime and some sort of weekend coming up. I’ll enjoy what I can get. Hope you do the same.