I see the light through the glass porch door as I drink lemon water and eat a thin slice of bread. I am "fasting" today, and this is my sustenance (as my toddler's ravenous breastfeeding makes full abstention impossible). I drink the acidic water while feeling the cold floor press into my toes, the world goldening slowly through the glass door like the pages of an aging book.
The rule is that I must at least feel hunger. This isn't difficult; on non-fasting days, I never skip a meal and snack frequently. And you should know that this hunger isn't meant to make me thin. I emphasize this fact because our eating habits are so disordered in this country, and I would never recommend fasting as a dieting technique.
Rather, I fast in order to teach myself about sufficient suffering. Sufficient is the wrong word. It's not a matter of quantity, I think, but rather of quality. There is a breed of elective suffering which is not masochistic, but rather gives boundaries to joy. Because feelings, objects, concepts, exist only through their contrasting shadows, there must be a kind of suffering which meatifies and nourishes the joy at its center. This, I believe, is the discomfort of growth and of empathy, a suffering sanctified by purpose.
I try to perform a modified fast weekly, and then donate the money I would have spent on food to the poor (through the Share the Meal app). Every time I feel a hunger pang, I think of the hungry ones and pray- not for their burden to be relieved, but that I will be strong enough to be one who relieves it.
Morality, I think, is always accompanied by discomfort. It's uncomfortable to compliment a friend, to help a homeless person before they ask. It's painful, sometimes, to be patient. A culture which worships the comfortable is a culture incapable of relieving suffering.
I am not a masochist. I believe in joy as a moral good. But small pangs of vicarious suffering make joy matter. These are the pangs of sacrifice, and no life of meaning can be constructed without them. This small suffering may relieve this entirely other breed of suffering: the suffering which crushes from the outside, which doesn't not instruct the spirit, but rather crushes it. To relieve the spirit-crushing suffering, we must all learn to suffer in these small and meaningful ways.