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Eating the Elephant



By Janice Lane Palko

Last month my husband and I went on a trip to the Holy Land with our parish, touring Israel and Jordan. The trip was amazing. We visited sites we’ve read about in the Bible and or have seen in movies, like Petra, the ancient city carved into rock facades, which was featured in the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.


Among the places we visited were Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus and the site of the first Christmas. We also visited Nazareth, sailed on the Sea of Galilee and floated in the Dead Sea. We rode camels in Jericho, walked the Via Dolorosa, the “Way of Sorrows” in Jerusalem to Jesus’s Crucifixion site and entered the Holy Sepulcher, the empty tomb of Jesus.

In Jordan, we visited Mt. Nebo, not the one with Sam’s Club and Target, and the Roman ruins in Jerash. We saw Bedouins herding sheep in the desert, visited Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, and placed prayers in the cracks of the Western Wall. It truly was the trip of a lifetime, and I encourage anyone who gets the chance to visit the Holy Land to do so.


But then it was time to return home.


We left Jordan and did the complicated swap of having our bus driver and Jordanian guide transport us to the border, deposit us there to go through immigration, re-enter Israel, where an Israeli guide and bus driver picked us up and transported back to Jerusalem. We were having dinner in a hotel before our guide was to transport us to the airport for our flight from Tel Aviv to Newark and then on to Pittsburgh, when I thought to check on our flight status. When I saw a red warning that said “Canceled,” my heart sank. I asked if anyone else had checked the status, which prompted everyone to pull out their cell phones. Not only had our flight been canceled, but we had also been rescheduled on a later flight leaving Tel Aviv but terminating in San Francisco, making it a 15-hour flight. Then we had a seven-hour layover in San Francisco before departing on a connecting flight to Denver, and then flying back to Pittsburgh.


My husband and I had purchased preferred seats so that we could sit together, but the new flight had us both in middle seats-the worst possible places. A sense of desperation descended. I don’t sleep on planes. I didn’t think I could handle such an ordeal. We’d already been up 19 hours when we took off; all told, by the time we arrived home, I had been up for nearly 50 hours.


Many of you face or have faced far worse circumstances than travel troubles. I have a neighbor who had a health issue that left him in isolation for a year until he received a bone marrow transplant. On the last leg of the trip, I sat next to an 81-year-old woman from West Virginia, who was flying back from visiting her grandchildren in Denver. She told me that when she was 27, her husband, who was a coal miner, had his skull crushed in a mining accident leaving her a widow with a two-year-old and new baby. She said she didn’t know how she made it through.


But I know how she did it, and anyone else facing dire, seemingly insurmountable circumstances, knows the secret. It’s the eating-the-elephant mindset. It was Desmond Tutu who said that “there is only one way to eat an elephant: a bite at a time.”


When I boarded that plane to come home, I tried to take it one hour at a time, one leg at a time, and find something good within each hour. I watched several movies and chatted a bit with my Israeli seatmate. In San Francisco, I had a delicious BLT sandwich, after no bacon for two weeks. And the lady from West Virginia was sweet and talking to her helped to pass the time. I never thought I’d be able to cope with being up 50 hours straight and being confined in a middle seat for 15 hours, and yet I did.


For any of you facing a challenge now or in the coming new year, remember to take it one small step at a time, find the good even in undesirable circumstances, and realize that you have more strength than you may realize. And before you know it, that elephant will be gone.

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