On this day, twenty-one years ago, after a Bank Holiday weekend spent in contemplation, I ventured out on foot from my flat opposite King’s Cross station to wander the streets of London, through Bloomsbury and Holborn, and on into the West End. As I passed through Covent Garden, winding between the last of the weekend’s revellers making their way to its clubs and bars, this question occurred to me: “Will you leave all of this behind?”
As it happens, it’s a question I have asked myself repeatedly over the years since then, whenever forced to make a choice between the good and bad within. That moment when, on the cusp of repentance, the choice seems stark. Sometimes it means unpicking a heavy investment, or abandoning a carbuncle you have carefully constructed for no good reason, other than to satisfy some inner urge or conceit. Yes: “Will you leave all of this behind?”
Ramadan arrives in similar fashion, interrupting misplaced plans with its sudden demand to live righteously. As the years pass by, it only gets harder, not easier, instilling discipline and self-control within. During these long fasts when we give up not just food and water, but also the inner calls to which we would usually respond — and as the aches and pains and hunger of the body set in — there is that ever present question: “Will you leave all of this behind?”
To every question, the eventual answer is the same: “Yes, I must.” For the ultimate salvation of my soul, I must.
So it was that at the end of that Bank Holiday weekend, twenty-one years ago, I realised that I had to join the caravan. So it was after building yet another vast and complex edifice, which towered high above me, I ultimately had to call in demolition. So it was, over and over, that I had to fall on my face in penitence, ripping to shreds great plots and plans I had invested so much in. And so it was, when Ramadan came too early, taking me by surprise, suddenly forcing me to reform myself, whether I liked it or not: because this hardship is obligatory.
“Will you leave all of this behind?”
The answer is self-evident.