I am Jewish. My family is not orthodox, but we are part of a Reconstructionist synagogue; Or Shalom. We celebrate major holidays like Chanukah, Passover, and the High Holy Days. I’ve had my Bat Mitzvah. I’ve had the experience of fasting on Yom Kippur the past two years. Fasting is different when you’re sleeping in the same room with girls who think they know you, but truly do not.
Last year, one of my close friends invited me to come to a program for teens at her church called Youth Night. Middle and high schoolers meet every other week and play games. There’s also a bit of prayer, but I’ve gotten used to that in the year I’ve been going to Youth Night.
Once a year, Youth Night participates in the Thirty Hour Famine, a community activity designed to raise money for those who have no food and to teach kids more about Jesus Christ and empathy with the hungry. I was invited to join them, and accepted. The Jesus bit was kind of lost on me, but I was excited to spend time with the people I had come to see as friends in the months I’d gotten to know them.
The Thirty Hour Famine at my friend’s church starts in the morning. The last meal before the famine is breakfast. In the evening, the teens meet at church and have a conversation and do a few activities related to world hunger. The activity we did included paper bags of beans and various penalties each group had. Afterwards, some of us stayed up, sorting the dried beans into the various types. At first there were five or so of us, but people dropped off to sleep. By the end it was just me and one boy. When we had finished, I joined in on the YouTube karaoke session that some of the other girls were having. After trying and failing to sing Chandelier (none of us actually knew the melody, and we could just barely hit the high notes in the chorus), we finally retired. By then it was around eleven. We clambered into our makeshift beds and fell asleep.
But I couldn’t. I was in a room with three other girls, only one of which knew that I’m lesbian. She was tolerant of my sexuality, but not entirely comfortable. I couldn’t think with the hunger in my stomach and melancholy in my mind. I slithered out of my sleeping bag and grabbed my journal and a pencil. I frantically scribbled down the beginning of a poem that I was terrified I would forget. A month or so ago, I had come up with a set of lines for a poem.
A fear of my peers,
It has always been here.
Suddenly the rest of it came pouring out of me. I tried to convey the strange emptiness I felt at the moment, while at the same time capturing the pain of certain rejection.
Once I had finished my poem, other ideas seemed to come from nowhere. I don’t know if it was my exhaustion or my empty stomach that left my mind free to think of new things to write, but whatever it was, I woke up the next morning with several pages of messy words written in a sloppy, blind hand. I wrote a bit more, no longer as frantic, but still just as thoughtful.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that fasting was “enlightening,” but the lack of food combined with the late hour and the fact that I was surrounded by religious, slightly homophobic girls inspired me in a way I hope to someday experience again. Although the feeling was
uncomfortable at the time, I want to go back to that moment. See what I was thinking. I want to be able to have ideas like that out of the blue without the sadness, but I know that emotion is a big factor in my writing.
The girls in the room that night were oblivious to their contribution to my writing, but because of them I felt the tightness in my chest that comes when I have ideas I need to get down on paper. I felt the emotions because of them and the fasting, the anger at both them and myself for my discomfort, the sadness at the knowledge that they didn’t really know me, and the detachedness that came with my slight delirium.
A fear of my peers…
…It has always been here.
Lena Hartsough, class of 2019