RAMADAN AND THE COLD TILES
Written by Devyn Springer
When I was a kid, I would have moments of energy —uncontrollable, elevated energy— that were almost always followed by an acuity of loneliness seemingly too clear for someone my age to have. When the energy would subside and the keen sense of sadness, manifested as loneliness, would kick in, I would always do the same thing: I found myself going into the bathroom, closing and locking the door behind me, and laying my head against the cool tile floor. Sometimes I would just lay there for five, maybe ten minutes, but there were also a few times when my cheeks against the cool tiles lasted upwards of an hour. I eventually grew out of this habit and found different coping methods for Borderline’s rapid emotional cycling that didn’t involve my face touching cold floor, but during Ramadan last year I realized I simply replaced the cold bathroom floor with a prayer mat.
When Muslims pray, we position ourselves in Sujud and prostrate ourselves to God - our foreheads, nose, the palms of our hands, and our knees lay against the floor as an act of praise and submission. And after a long, hot day of fasting from all food and water from sunup to sundown, when I put my forehead to my prayer mat alone in my room for Fajr, the first prayer of the day, I instantly remembered the feelings that lead me to put my face against the cold tiles. I felt the loneliness, the sadness, the emptiness that creeps in when a rapid energy tires, all fall over me. My embrace of the Divine had one way or another led me to a strikingly similar position as my own nature as a child had.
Ramadan is a holy month for Muslims; the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, where worldwide we fast all day to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad. For the fourth year in a row now, I found myself battling bouts of depression, thick like honey, in the middle of Ramadan. As someone who converted to Islam, I am the only Muslim in my family. And while many of my friends who I’ve gained over the past few years are Muslims, most of my closest friends who I’ve known the longest are not.
For me, Ramadan is an act of aloneness, something I do on my own accord without the support of an immediate family or tightknit Muslim friend group that so many who are born Muslim have, and I am not sure if I like it this way or not. The aloneness that I felt naturally as a child still resides in me and seems to resurface every year around Ramadan when I find myself breaking my fast at night on my couch with a microwave dinner because I cannot afford to go out to eat, or when I scroll on social media to see friends with their entire immediate families breaking their fasts together in joy. I don’t have a Muslim mother who wakes up in the morning to cook a meal to share for Suhoor. I don’t have brothers and cousins who want to go break fast together at one of the many wonderful halal restaurants in downtown Atlanta. I don’t have close Muslim relatives to look forward to giving and receiving gifts from on Eid al-Fitr.
Of course, there are local mosques and community centers that offer great iftar dinners and I have taken this offer before, but it is not the same as the intimate experience of breaking your fast at night with friends, family, and partners who you deeply love. The trip to the mosque for iftar during Ramadan is a near anxiety-inducing one that involves me and whatever friend comes along wading awkwardly through a sea of languages we do not speak, trying to navigate the different ethnic cliques that form and always seem to lack new Muslim converts.
If depression already makes me feel isolated from others, then the addition of a month that is supposed to be holy communion with a community I don’t feel I fully fit in which only exacerbates what feelings already reside. I am starving myself of food and water daily while starving for feelings of community at the same time. And this starving usually leads me back home, avoiding mosque iftars and impersonal dinner invites by slightly sympathetic acquaintances, opting for what only feels familiar to me: the recreating of putting my face against those cold tiles until it turns almost numb. I pray alone in my home often during Ramadan, prostrating in submission to God and feelings similar to when I was a child.
This year I decided to take that aloneness and set it aside, for the better, and made two trips while fasting, and saw new places. I traveled alone on a 15 hour bus ride to Washington, D.C., where someone (who I will just call "bae" for the purpose of this article) resides whose company I enjoy and appreciate. I spent a week there, living, laughing, enjoying bae's company, cooking for them at night as the time to break my fast came around. I found myself now alone in a new kind of way; I was alone with someone else, whose aloneness, whose silence, matched mine. And then again, this past week, I traveled to New York for New York City's Pride Festival. It was a moment where two months, both holy and righteous to certain parts of my identities, crossed over one another and I got to enjoy them together as one. I spent the last weekend of Ramadan in New York City, with bae, surrounded by queer and trans individuals of all faiths dancing underneath rainbow limelight. I met other queer Muslims who share my struggles and understand my joy and, again, my aloneness shrunk a little.
This sense of aloneness has made me stronger in my faith and spirituality, and has made me stronger as a person, because it is one of the only things that actually reminds me I am not alone. I have never been a neutral person and have always lived my life on the borderline of extremes; hot or cold, depressed or joyous. But it wasn’t until I learned to stop making a dichotomy between aloneness and holiness that I was able to really tap into all the blessings stored inside of Ramadan; when I realized my aloneness and my religious practices didn’t have to be at extremes with each other, rather could be the grayish-black, neutral area of my life, I learned to appreciate the cold tiles even more.