Consumption of nutrients is a basic requirement for sustaining life in humans. It is a primal instinct in each of us. Nutrients give us energy, strength, and allow us to grow. Hunger is the alarm by which we are prompted to eat. If it is ignored we experience discomfort, and by continuing to ignore it, we experience pain. If enough nutrients are not consumed we become malnourished; our bodies become weak, our minds confused, and our energy is limited. If this situation persists, the body slowly begins to devour it’s own flesh, bones, and organs.
Unfortunately, there are billions of people in this world who feel the warning bells of hunger every minute of every day. They feel the alarms, but they can do nothing to silence them. This is true hunger.
Every year millions of Muslims observe Ramadan, which is a time of making peace with neighbours and letting go of any bitterness or resentment held against others. Most importantly however, it is a time in which each healthy man and woman abstains from all food and drink, while the sun is in the sky, for the cycle of a moon. The purpose of this restraint is to experience hunger and thirst, in an attempt to better understand what millions of people are forced to experience every day.
Hunger is a very powerful thing. It is hard not to feel resentful when smelling your co-worker is eating hot pizza at the desk beside you. In the middle of the day your stomach rumbles uncomfortably, and halfway through the afternoon you start getting hunger cramps. Water starts to look like the nectar of the gods, and your tongue is stuck to the roof of your mouth. You berate yourself for not having just one more glass when you got up at 5:30 am for a quick breakfast. By the time mere 10 hours have passed since your last meal, eating your next one is all you can think about, yet you know you still have several hours until the sun sets.
So you go grocery shopping for the evening meal, but you forget that you’ll have to pass the free samples of cheese, lasagne, steak, or even the newest cereal. You reach for one of the toothpicks offering a taste of ambrosia, but just as your fingers touch it you remember why you can’t have it. Not because of a religious commandment, or god-induced guilt. Those are not the reasons you do this to yourself for a month each year. You do this because it helps you to better value what you do have. When it is finally time to eat in the evening you appreciate your food, no matter what it is.
You do this to be grateful you have the opportunity to eat at every meal, every day. Suddenly your petty complaints diminish in importance. You remember that you have only experienced hunger, but that people in the world are starving. Hunger is all you can imagine, because it is all you have experienced, and it is so awful it sometimes overrides your ability to control it. You realise you just can’t imagine how terrible starvation must actually be.
For those of us who observe Ramadan the experience is incomplete, and mercifully so. When lunar cycle concludes those who have been fasting give gifts of food and money to those who need it, whether they are neighbours, or strangers who live in a distant country. If we are not able to afford to give these, we give the gift of time, and volunteer at shelters, soup kitchens, or housing development projects.
This commentary isn't meant to make anyone feel guilty for eating out or owning a dozen shoes. Instead the purpose is to encourage us all to remember playing in the playground as children. To appreciate the toys we have, and to share with the children who sit against the wall and longingly watch us play with them.