Ramadan smells like eggs. Eggs fried with a little bit of onion and mustard seed, rolled into fat roti, the whites peeking out from the ends, the yolks pushing up against the edges, smears of yellow shining through the holes left by popped air bubbles in the bread.
In my house, Ramadan was something of a family affair. My mother, despite being Catholic, would rise with my father in the pre-dawn twilight, cook said eggs and roti and make him a cup of tea then go back to bed. When I was around ten, I started getting up every few mornings too; eventually my brother joined us at the breakfast table, everyone drinking tea or juice, too bleary-eyed for conversation, but feeling the silence important somehow, too. In the comfortable, sleepy companionship of those mornings, though, there hung an unspoken agreement: my brother and I would fast, too, just as soon as we were old enough. But for us, fasting has never come to pass.
My brother has his own reasons, though we’ve never spoken about them. We rarely speak about religion these days, both in somewhat precarious positions. I’m married to an athiest, he to a Christian whose family has strong church ties. I do know this, though: I don’t fast because I don’t want to, but rather because I can’t.
I have grand mal epilepsy. It doesn’t affect my life greatly--I’ve had it since I was three, and I’m used to it. If all my symptoms suddenly disappeared tomorrow, I think I’d be lost. (Once, I went a whole week without seeing the tiny glimmers of green I usually see in the shower; it was like greeting old friends who’d been away on vacation when they came back.) There are, however, a few things I can’t do: drive, swim, and fast.
My father has come to terms with my not fasting in a kinda-sorta way. Every now and then, he remarks that I’ll be able to fast soon, when I’m strong enough, as if epilepsy is a wasting disease and I simply need to gain a little weight back. And I have tried--a few years ago, I fasted as part of a charity Ramadan-a-thon at MIT, to raise money for local food banks and shelters. It went just as it was supposed to: Joe and I woke up together, I made eggs and roti and tea, and then I had a partial seizure while visiting a friend (also fasting). This was in 2005, the year I ran the Vermont marathon, and I cried because I was forced to drink orange juice and let down my sponsors.
In terms of strength, I’m about as good as I’ll ever get. I run between 25 and 30 miles a week. I walk the baby another 15 or so miles per week, and buy running shoes more often than other women by heels or chocolate. I take Pilates classes, and I try to do yoga on my own time. My weight puts me bang in the middle of the healthy BMI range, at 22.5, and I’m a US 6. There are only two things I can do to be healthier: sleep more, and eat spinach out of a can as often as Popeye.
The Qu’ran takes people like me into account. The sick, elderly, and infirm are not supposed to fast. And yet, I still wish I could, even though I’ve accepted my epilepsy. I’ve been seizure-free long enough to get a license, and I’m studying for my learners and every time I wind up near a pool, I talk Joe into giving me swimming lessons and try to improve my rather mediocre breaststroke. But fasting is something I simply cannot do, and it bothers me, because I’ve broken our egg-and-roti agreement.