Elizabeth: A Holy Land Pilgrimage is available in paperback and on kindle and is being reprinted on Catholic News Agency with author’s permission. Cheryl’s non-fiction book is called Our Jewish Roots: A Catholic Woman’s Guide to Fulfillment Today by Connecting with Her Past.
Listen to my prayer, spoken without guile. Psalm 17:1
Beth awoke, startled, as her book slipped from her lap and landed on her feet. She was sure she had been snoring, another symptom of menopause, and embarrassedly looked at her seat companions. Fortunately, they, too, were older and probably couldn’t even hear Beth’s snores above the roar of the engines. Beth saw that she missed her chance at a drink and pressed the “call” button for a flight attendant. Normally she would have just dealt with her dry mouth but today felt it necessary to make a statement that the next two weeks were all about her. Not in a rude or offensive way, just her own simple acknowledgement that she, too, was worth the effort.
“Can I help you?” asked the flight attendant as he reached across her seat to turn off the call button.
“Yes, please, I’m sorry that I missed the drink cart. Could I please get a glass of ice water?”
“Sure, just give me a moment,” was his reply. Beth refused to feel guilty as he looked up and down the aisle, apparently preparing a strategy to obtain this errant drink requested by a demanding passenger. Of course Beth knew that receiving the drink was only the first leg of the imposition. When she had finished her drink, she knew she would have to press the call button again to dispose of the plastic cup and shards of ice that remained. She opened her book and began reading to indicate that this wasn’t something she was going to back down from, regardless of the flight attendant’s dramatic flair.
When the plane touched down in New York, Beth had just finished the third chapter of the book. So far, so good. It was just what she had hoped and knew she had made a good decision. The christening flight of her trip was a success. She listened as the pilot instructed everyone to remain seated during the approach to the terminal and filled them in on the weather conditions and time in New York.
Beth had a few hours before her second flight and decided to be one of those people who simply sat in their seats while the other passengers jostled for a place in the aisle, just to stand, like sardines, until the door was opened. This made two, very unlike-Beth acts within the space of a few short hours. First, she did not beg off with her interest in a glass of water the moment she saw it would take a bit of maneuvering and now, staying seated during the plane disembarkment, as if she were a lady of leisure. She was practically a new woman already! This was going to be an awesome two weeks.
With the entire airline industry on its head since the fateful September day in 2001, Beth found that safety measures seemed no different entering the El Al terminal than for her flight to New York. Precautions were in place everywhere and everyone was prepared for the eventual questioning by security personnel or the inevitable ransacking of bags and carry-on luggage. Rules, procedures, and limitations were constantly being updated. Currently, you were not allowed to have any beverages, shampoo, creams, or lotions in your carry-on bags. Beth wasn’t deterred by any of the edicts. She was too caught up in realizing her longtime dream of visiting Israel for her spirits to be hampered.
As she walked the terminals in New York she felt they, too, were no different than the terminals in Detroit. There were shops touting souvenirs of “The Big Apple” just as Detroit had souvenirs of “The Motor City” or of “Motown,” although these were both monikers that Detroit had long ago outgrown. New York also had the same small eateries as in Michigan. There was a restaurant selling hamburgers with its lines spilling out into the halls while the establishments promoting more exotic cuisine seemed quite a bit emptier.
If everyone was like Beth, which she came to realize was in fact the case, a tourist was bound to avoid foods that have potentially negative long-term effects. “Passing-through” would have been applicable to the person as well as the meal. With an aging population, Beth knew this must be the case for many people and felt a twinge of sadness that she couldn’t partake in any of their interesting edibles. Those days were a thing of the past.
By far, Beth’s favorite thing to do was people watch. With some time stretching before her, she took a seat and scanned the terminal. She was fascinated by the sheer number of people who inhabited the earth. She often wondered, as she watched people go by, why this one or that one wasn’t in her realm of acquaintances. Did God have a master plan and people only met when He deemed it necessary and providential? It was at times like this that Beth drove herself crazy.
Beth opened her bag and took out her book of Psalms. She also removed the bag of nuts and dried fruit that Luke had so thoughtfully packed. She decided to spend some time reading through the calming words and enjoying a light snack. After departing the plane she had stopped and purchased a bottle of cranberry juice. She now opened it and placed it on the seat by her snack. Opening her book, Beth was soon lost in the beauty of King David’s words. After some time, Beth’s attention was diverted by a commotion she caught in the corner of her eye.
She watched a young mother struggle with a two year old who clearly wanted the cartoon doll in a gift shop. The mother had made the grave mistake of running into the gift shop to buy a pack of gum and a magazine and walked out with nothing more than a screaming toddler, arms outstretched, as if the doll could save him from some terrible fate that awaited. Beth thought of the countless times she had attempted some excursion with her own children, each endeavor meeting with defeat.
As Beth watched the mother’s control slowly slip away, she wondered if she was supposed to go help. Was this woman, at the edge of her patience, meant to be someone whom Beth should know? These were the things Beth grappled with now. Almost too anxious to hear God’s call, she often wondered if she had become deaf to it. Sitting in her seat, waiting to be called for boarding, Beth decided this woman wasn’t supposed to be in Beth’s world. At least not in the physical sense. She decided to quietly say a prayer for the return of the young mother’s patience.
As soon as Beth finished her short but heartfelt prayer, her row was called. Securing her tote bag under her left arm, and holding her boarding pass in her right hand, she took her place in line. She smiled at everyone who looked her way, wanting to strike up a conversation with them all. Were they as excited as she was to be traveling to the Holy Land? She could feel her stomach doing flip-flops at the prospect of standing on the ground that her Lord and Savior stood upon. Were His words still echoing in the foothills of Mount Sinai? Would she feel Judge Deborah’s presence at Mount Tabor? Would she break down during her own walk on the Via Dolorosa?
Her questions filled her mind as she inched her way closer to the airplane that would be arriving at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv in ten hours. For one fleeting moment she wished that Luke were with her. Would he add to her excitement and anticipation or would he detract from it? It was something she hadn’t been willing to risk as she weighed the pros and cons of what she felt she needed during the planning portion of this trip.
Part of her thought they needed time together. They could have made arrangements for the two youngest boys to stay with friends and family. Making arrangements for Sophia would have been even easier. But the other part of her, and as it turned out, the larger portion, knew she simply needed time to herself. And it needed to be time that had great meaning for her. Her ache for what life hadn’t yet held was becoming almost unbearable at times. Her need to grasp at the tailwinds of time began in earnest the day her son was accepted to college. She watched him read his congratulatory letter and simultaneously saw him as a toddler putting his first puzzle together. Where had the time gone? A searing pain ran through her like a hot knife through butter, melting everything it touched. She couldn’t bear to think of Sophia leaving in another year. Two of her children on their own!
Where had her life gone became the bigger question. What happened to her dreams of teaching at a local college or of having taken one or two significant family vacations? Time was running through her fingers like sand in an hour glass and each grain became a tear of remorse or regret or fear. She could no longer tell. And so her plan began hatching.
She became fixated on reports that said that a person’s forties were the new thirties. By those calculations she was only thirty-eight! This was math that she liked. She found great comfort in that. Thirty-eight was quite young and a great age to take a trip. Once she had recaptured the past ten years, she had to decide on what kind of trip she would take. Her cousin had just returned from France and England. Beth listened intently to stories and enjoyed all the pictures and yet none of it stirred a desire in Beth’s heart. The pictures of the Eiffel Tower at night were truly magnificent as were the expensive, melt-in-your-mouth chocolates that Anthony had purchased for everyone. But still, Beth had no inclination to visit those parts of Europe.
Later that week, Beth was writing down everyone’s dental appointments on her calendar when her eye caught the calendar’s notes for Yom Kippur and Sukkot. In that instant she knew where she was going: Israel. Her childhood memories of growing up in a predominately Jewish neighborhood and having attended more than a few Hanukah parties and synagogue services came flooding back. She wanted to be in Israel. Actually, more accurately, she felt as if she needed to be in Israel. And her planning began.
Beth was next in line. She took a step forward and felt as if she were walking with God for the first time in a long time. She was overcome with peace as she moved through the vacuous tunnel to the plane. This time she was focused on finding her seat and refused to get caught up in any of her day dreams. S3, S3, S3, S3, Beth repeated, until she was buckled in. She found that there were great benefits to paying attention.
She selected a nice, clean, freshly folded blanket and a crisply covered pillow from the empty, overhead bin. She easily moved into her seat and got herself situated. Although she wasn’t quite ready to make use of her pillow or blanket she was relying on her cousin’s advice: Sleep during your flight, even if you don’t want to! You must do everything you can to make it through the first day on your trip without succumbing to sleep. Get yourself on schedule right away. Her cousin had explained that staying up during this flight, and then sleeping when you arrived at your destination, really threw a wrench in your whole trip. So Beth planned on following her cousin’s sage advice and doing her best to get to sleep as soon as they were in the air.
The woman for whom Beth had offered a prayer stood in the aisle eyeing her ticket and the numbers posted on the small plastic signs above each row. She looked at Beth, her toddler asleep in her arms. Beth smiled knowingly as the woman moved in such a way as to not wake up her child. Beth helped by removing the diaper bag from the woman’s shoulder and placing it on the floor, just tucked under the seat enough so that the woman could maneuver her way into the narrow space. Beth watched as the woman bent forward, ever-so-slightly, and then put the back of her hand against her child’s beautiful head so that it wouldn’t lunge backward causing him to wake up.
The woman thoughtfully eyed the armrest between her seat and the seat of her toddler. Beth instinctively knew it would be best to raise the armrest to create one large single space for both mother and child versus two small spaces. Beth reached over and in one movement pushed in the release button of the armrest while pulling it up to be tucked between the seatbacks. The mother smiled her appreciation, both women understanding the need for silence. Beth’s heart filled with gratitude to the Lord for having allowed her to pray for this mother and her child and for also giving her seat companions that would help her follow her sister’s advice: to sleep.
The plane was in the air, the young mother and her child were serenely tucked into their roomy seat. They were all on their way to Israel. Beth’s last cognizant thoughts, as she drifted off to sleep, were from the book of Jeremiah. For thus says the Lord: Shout with joy for Jacob, exult at the head of the nations; proclaim your praise and say; The Lord has delivered his people, the remnant of Israel. Behold, I will bring them back from the land of the north; I will gather them from the ends of the world, with the blind and the lame in their midst, The mothers and those with child; they shall return as an immense throng.
For those of you just starting, you can also read Chapter One on our site.