Today, I am thrilled to share with you the first chapter in our next online novel, Elizabeth: A Holy Land Pilgrimage by Cheryl Dickow.
Elizabeth: A Holy Land Pilgrimage was a true labor of love for author Cheryl Dickow whose own passions for the Holy Land and the Jewish roots of the Catholic faith are almost unquenchable. Elizabeth is the first work published by Bezalel Books which Cheryl established in late 2006; it centers on a woman whose life is at a crossroads and her realization that the only way to get back on track is to get to the roots of her faith—in the Holy Land—if it isn’t too late. Since the release of Elizabeth, Bezalel Books has published 40 additional titles that are perfect for the Catholic home, school or parish. Elizabeth is available in paperback or in Kindle format. Cheryl is also the author of the recent non-fiction book Our Jewish Roots: A Catholic Woman’s Guide to Fulfillment Today by Connecting with Her Past.
Keep me safe, O God; in you I take refuge. Psalm 16:1
The easiest decision Beth ever made was to take this vacation. Having just turned forty-eight and smack dab in the middle of her very own mid-life crisis, she knew she needed to get away. Her children were now teenagers and could, essentially, fend for themselves. Truth be told, given her disposition of late, they had long been fending for themselves. Her husband, both loving and frustrating at the same time, had given his blessings for this trip. He didn’t even flinch when she shared with him her interest in spending time in Israel.
Luke had long ago understood that Beth’s fascination with the Jewish roots of their faith was unquenchable. Their home library was filled with books from the Talmud to the Torah. Books written in Hebrew cast a spell over Beth and she sought them in every bookstore she entered, in every yard sale she perused. There were two small, quaint bookstores within a three mile radius of their home that had become Beth’s favorite haunts on the first Saturday of every month, always the day after new arrivals had been shelved.
As she drove the twenty miles from her home to the airport she thought of her husband’s easy acceptance of her grand plans. She had to wonder if he wanted her out of the house as much as she wanted to get out. Wouldn’t that be something? But she was too determined to escape to even take issue with that interesting prospect. But now, as she approached her gate, she realized how unfettered this whole undertaking had been. When she first introduced the idea to Luke, she was only mid-way through her rehearsed discourse on why this was the ideal plan when she was struck by the absurdity of her own words. Here she was, in all seriousness, explaining to Luke why Israel was the perfect choice for time to herself, when she realized she didn’t even have a passport. Never had. And now she wanted to go to Israel! She really got a kick out of herself sometimes and could see her kids shaking their heads in mock support of their dad, who most certainly seemed to have his hands full with Beth.
Parking in the long term parking lot, she waved down the shuttle and adroitly joined the other passengers, all silently contemplating their day’s events. Before she knew it, she was at the airport and following the signs that gently guided her towards the correct line. As she took her place behind an older couple arguing about where they should keep their long term parking lot ticket, she imagined herself ensconced in the apartment she had rented in the heart of Jerusalem. She could envision the peace and tranquility that would be hers. All hers. No kids demanding to be fed and no laundry piles snickering at her inability to claim victory. She was sure that Luke, her equally beleaguered husband, knew better than to let the laundry pile up while she was gone.
He wouldn’t dare let her come home from a peaceful, relaxing vacation to walk into all that she had said she was running from: unending demands. She didn’t allow herself to feel guilty because, with their oldest son off to college, the only laundry that Luke would have to contend with was his own and that of the other three children. And cooking was something that Luke enjoyed. Sophia, their daughter, was a junior in high school and the apple of her father’s eye. They both enjoyed each other’s company and she seemed to be following in his footsteps in the culinary department. They often cooked together, sometimes in complete silence. Sophia created meat rubs while Luke whipped up barbeque sauces that would rival anything on the supermarket shelves.
Yes, Luke probably wanted Beth out of the house as much as she wanted to get out of the house. Nonetheless, Beth smiled as she secretly hoped that Luke would both enjoy his time with Sophia, Joseph, now a high school freshman, and Sammy, a sweet natured seventh grader, but also struggle with her absence. Beth prayed that Luke would realize that she was the best thing that had ever happened to him. She hadn’t felt valued in quite a while and she could no longer distinguish if it was coming from her marriage or from life in general.
Undoubtedly, she needed some time to herself, she thought, as she waited in line, ticket in hand, and her tote filled with the three books she had planned on reading. She had two beautiful weeks stretching ahead of her and eagerly anticipated reading from the moment she boarded her first flight to New York all the way to catching her second plane to Israel. Although at that very moment in time she was sorely regretting the particularly heavy novels as they weighed her down and caused her neck muscles to strain. She couldn’t get on board fast enough.
Check-in went a whole lot smoother than she had expected. Luke convinced her to arrive two and a half hours before her flight’s scheduled departure. With age, his conservatism had reached new heights. Where once she found him a “rock” and a “safe harbor,” she now found him aggravating. Or, as their counselor had corrected, it wasn’t Luke that Beth found aggravating, it was his “ways.” Beth shook her head at the time and money they had chosen to pay in fees to a marriage counselor. She wasn’t sure that either had been well spent, but there it was, done. She wasn’t going to mope over it.
Initially, Beth was convinced that new window coverings and a couple of wing back chairs would have suited her better than counseling. But that seemed selfish in the face of the ice age that had settled in her house. So she and Luke made a few phone calls and decided to begin therapy. Maybe it had accomplished something. Who knows? When Luke and Beth had originally agreed that they needed a mediator in their relationship, Beth had felt they were very much on the verge of a divorce. She was tired and more than ready to throw in the towel. Divorce ran in Beth’s family like red hair and freckles ran in other families.
She had to admit that they learned to talk nicer to each other, and that was certainly beneficial. They learned rules about not attacking one another but keeping their focus on the issues at hand. Beth was notorious for remembering the pains that Luke had inflicted upon her in their early years of marriage while Luke was good at the kind of general insults that had a way of festering in Beth’s heart and mind. Beth walked sideways down the aisle of the plane, searching for her seat, as she remembered their first session.
“So, I believe the best place to begin is to hear what each of you feels is the reason for being here and what you would like to get out of this time together.”
Sitting on a beautiful tapestry couch, Beth did everything in her power not to roll her eyes at the therapist sitting across from her. How ironic that the therapist was sitting in a wing back chair, now only a distant hope for Beth as her extra money went to these sessions. All Beth could think of was, Look at her in that gorgeous wing back chair! That’s what I really wanted, but instead she said, “Luke and I have been struggling with being kind to each other. We are here because we have a twenty year marriage we would like to salvage and four children to whom we want to provide a warm and loving home.” Beth sat and waited for either Luke or the therapist to speak. She didn’t really care which one took a turn, she felt she had risen to the occasion and was quite pleased with herself.
Shifting in her chair so that she could more squarely face Luke, the therapist asked, “Luke, what do you see as the reason you are here and your goals?”
Never a man of many words, Beth was as curious as Ms. Claireborne, their counselor, about Luke’s response, maybe even more so. Beth, then, turned to face Luke and was reminded how very much she was still attracted to her own husband. He was just under six feet tall and fairly thin, at least compared to most fifty-something men she met. He had magnificent arms that always made her tingle when she looked at them. She loved to watch him work in the summer, mowing the lawn or washing the cars. His muscles were well defined and he had great strength in his arms. She remembered when she was pregnant with their first son and had sprained her ankle. Luke had carried her around their little apartment for two days because she could not put any weight on her foot without a tremendous amount of pain. And, being pregnant, she was unable to take any pain medicine. Luke picked her up as if she was as light as a feather.
When Luke spoke, Elizabeth caught a breath in her throat as she heard him use her name. Lately, there had been very little in the way of closeness between the two of them and hearing Luke’s familiarity with her name made her heart skip a beat. He was the only person alive who called her “Liz.” The most common derivative of Elizabeth was Beth, and that was how everyone addressed her except, of course, her mother, who only used her formal, given name. Beth always got a kick out of her mother’s pronunciation: Eee-liz-a-beth. It was as if it was the single, most beautiful name on the planet and it would be a sin to slur any of the syllables together. But there Luke was, using his special name for his wife. “Like Liz said, we’ve both been having a difficult time speaking kindly to one another and neither of us feel this is the kind of home we want our children to be raised in.”
Well, we finally agree on something! Beth thought as Luke concluded his response. How absurd that their first agreement in ages should be at a marriage counselor’s office.
Beth was jarred back to reality when she realized she had walked down the entire length of the plane without locating her seat. Daydreaming had become a real problem of late. Pretending she was interested in a magazine, she rifled through the magazine rack against the back wall of the plane and, feigning disinterest in all that it held, walked back up the aisle to find her seat: J2.
Pitiful behavior for a forty-eight year old woman was all Beth could think as she buckled herself into her seat and opened her tote bag. She purchased it after the completion of their marriage counseling. It was a deep red and green floral pattern with forest green leather straps. If she didn’t get anything else out of the sessions she did learn that she loved tapestry, having spent more than a dozen hours on the finely woven embroidered couch at the therapist’s office.
She admired the bag and then began wondering how she could have walked right past her seat, lost in her own thoughts. What was she going to be like when she was seventy? Would her children have to be called because she was lost or confused? Sophia’s frustration with Beth was becoming ever more apparent as she was growing into a beautiful young woman with ideas of her own. Sometimes Beth felt as if Sophia would have been fine without her and at other times Beth felt that Sophia’s confidence came from the knowledge that her mother was her stalwart companion, ever available should Sophia need or want her. And, of course, Sophia neither seemed to need nor want her mother much anymore. She was her own young woman, and Beth was tremendously proud of her, but often ached at the knowledge that Beth already had one foot out the door.
Beth shook her head at herself and rummaged through her tote looking for her novel. These were all thoughts she wanted to leave behind right now. Viewing the contents of her bag, she saw three small plastic dispensers of tissue, a couple of packs of cinnamon gum, her reading glasses, her sunglasses, and a few protein bars. She could see that Luke threw in a plastic bag filled with nuts and raisins. That was Luke, always taking care of everyone. Her friends never understood her frustration at such a man. She tried to explain that, at times, she almost felt like she had no role in the house. Luke could cover everything, and often did.
There, towards the bottom of the tote, she spotted her book. She had purposely selected a longer novel for the first read of her vacation, knowing full well that she would easily be able to immerse herself in such a story. It was about a mountain expedition that was supposed to be filled with mystery, intrigue, and relationships. Rumor had it that it was being made into a movie with two of today’s hottest stars. Beth had no interest. She preferred reading a novel and letting her imagination soar. There were very few times where a movie failed to disappoint her when compared to a book.
Her second book was a lighter read, last year’s bestseller that she never got around to reading. From what her friends said, more fluff than bulk, but sometimes a girl just needed fluff. The trend was for well known authors to write everything, whether or not it was in their genre. The whole world was about money, both the making and the spending of it. It made her feel old as she often wondered where everyone’s values had gone. She lamented the world that her children were inheriting and was glad they had the energy to put up a good fight.
Her last book was really more of a “filler” book in that it could be picked up at any time and simply opened and read. It was a book of Psalms. Beth loved the words as they reflected her own conversations with God.
With her first book in hand, she zipped up her tote and pushed it under the seat in front of her. She couldn’t see the occupant but knew that by the time she had worked her way back up the aisle, all the seats and every overhead bin had been filled. It was a good thing she hadn’t needed any of that space because it was long gone by the time she claimed her seat.
Putting her head back and closing her eyes, Beth listened to the engines and felt the slight sway of the plane that always made her feel like she were on a ferris wheel ride that was coming to an end. Since menopause she had become extremely sensitive to many sounds and slight movements. She didn’t like it when her children plopped themselves on the couch next to her or when they dropped the silverware in the drawer as they emptied the dishwasher. Beth felt as if her nerves were like downed electrical wires, jumping all over the street.
Sophia’s room had also become a real issue in the past year. Beth was tired of the piles of clothes on the floor and the complete disregard for Beth’s desires to have quiet in the evening hours. There seemed to be a stream of kids coming and going and Beth wanted to scream, I want quiet!
Menopause had also added ten pounds to her waist that, try as she might, refused to vanish. She understood what women meant when they moaned, I gave him the best years of my life. She couldn’t imagine who would be interested in dating her, should she and Luke truly split up. She had literally given him the best years of her life.
Life, that fleeting existence, sure had a way of getting to her lately. She kept her eyes closed and brought to mind the beautiful apartment that she had rented for these next two weeks. She had worked for a travel agency during her last year of college, many moons ago, and she had used them to plan and book this trip. She didn’t want to take any chances on using the Internet and end up in some terrible situation, halfway across the globe, alone. She didn’t mind paying for the luxury of the peace of mind she had in knowing that her vacation had been in the hands of professionals.
Too many people, she thought, considered themselves experts in all fields but yet didn’t think anyone else could do their particular job! Beth was not a travel agent, she was a middle school teacher in a small private school in the suburbs of Detroit. She would leave the travel planning in the hands of professionals and wished that everyone else would do the same for her. She was always amazed at how many parents thought they could do her job, and felt free to tell her just that. Yes, she definitely needed this vacation.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, we have been given the “go-ahead” to depart. Please turn off all cell phones, laptops, and any other electrical devices until we are in the air and you have been given instructions that you may turn them on. We ask that you remain seated during our flight and that, while you are in your seats, you keep your seatbelts on. We expect to arrive in New York as scheduled.”
Perfect, thought Beth, as she smiled and drifted off to sleep.