Sunday, May 18, 2014

A Great Guy

I've noticed something. Maybe you have, too. The authors of the four gospels didn't like Judas Iscariot. None of them had anything good to say about him, and John flat-out called him a thief.

I think that's the reason we get him all wrong.

This became obvious to me one day as I was lunching with my friend Robin. She was surprised to find that, reading Talmid, she actually liked Yehudah Ish-Kerioth. She started thinking that maybe she was wrong in identifying him as Judas, because he was a fun guy with a sense of humor and Yeshua (Jesus) hung out with him more than anyone else. "No," I assured her, "he's Judas, all right."

"Well," she said, "then that's just one more reason to like this book. I never thought of Judas that way before."

Few people have. Why is this? After all, the Bible is clear when it says Jesus was betrayed by a close friend. He himself quoted the psalm that prophesied this tragedy:
Even my close friend, someone I trusted, one who shared my bread, has turned against me. (Psalm 41:9)
I don't know about you, but I like my close friends.  I even like my not-so-close friends.  That is (in my opinion) the definition of friendship. I can't say the same for all of my acquaintances, nor my family members, nor my students. But my friends ... them, I like. So if Judas was a close friend of Jesus, it makes sense that Jesus actually liked Judas. In my mind, that makes Judas a likable guy.

Betrayal is a funny thing (not funny-ha-ha, but funny-strange). It can only happen where trust exists.  Where there is no trust, there can be no betrayal. Some people think (because of the way John worded his gospel) that Jesus knew right off the bat which one of the Twelve would betray him, and that Jesus chose Judas as his betrayer, and that he never really got close to Judas emotionally because -- after all -- Judas was a scum bag. If this were the case, however, there would have been no betrayal.

Let me use a parable to get this idea across.

Jim was low on cash. He owned an expensive painting but he knew that, in the current economy, he couldn't sell it for even half of what it was worth. "If only someone would break into my house and steal it," he reasoned, "then I could collect the insurance." Jim was no idiot, though. He knew he'd have to involve the police and that whoever stole the painting would have to be caught. Otherwise, the insurance company (and the police) would suspect that Jim had stolen his own painting. So Jim, being no idiot, decided he needed a new friend. He started hanging out in all the wrong places until, sure enough, he became acquainted with a man who was known as only marginally honest. He bought the guy a beer and invited him to go fishing, and within weeks the two of them were inseparable. Jim's other friends were leery of Bob, but since Jim vouched for him, they tolerated his presence at their get-togethers. No one was really surprised, however, when Jim's valuables disappeared ... around the same time that Bob left the state. "He betrayed me!" Jim said again and again. "Well," his friends replied, "next time maybe you'll listen to us."

Betrayed? Hardly. Yet this is the way so many of us have been trained to view the relationship between Jesus and Judas. Now, I don't think I'm contradicting the scriptures here. Jesus DID know who was going to betray him: one of his closest friends. And he chose all twelve of them knowing that one of them was going to turn on him; he chose twelve men who had the capacity for betrayal, and he allowed himself to become emotionally attached to every one of them, accepting the fact that one of them was going to turn against him. Many articles and commentaries have explored the possible reasons Judas had for betraying Jesus, but few have asked the more important question: why was it Judas and not one of the others?

At the Last Supper, each of the disciples asked Jesus who the betrayer would be. "Is it I, Lord? Is it I?"  I wonder how many times, earlier in their friendship, Jesus had looked into each face and asked, "Is he the one, Father?  Is he?" Obviously, toward the end, Jesus knew it was Judas. But did he know this -- would he allow himself to know this -- right from the start? Or would that have negated the prophecy by turning a betrayal into something less painful?

I honestly think the whole betrayal thing started out as a misunderstanding. Jesus said or did something, Judas misunderstood, and the rest is history. Why do I believe this? Think about it ... how many times in your own experience have two good friends become enemies overnight over a simple misunderstanding? Do you think maybe this is the reason Jesus tells us to go first to the one who has wronged us? To avoid a misunderstanding turning into a war?

I cannot think of another thing that's as painful as betrayal. And yet, most betrayals could be averted by clear communication. It is when we rush into reaction -- as Judas did -- that a misunderstanding escalates into something that destroys relationships, destroys marriages, destroys ministries, destroys careers, destroys reputations ... destroys lives.

I don't know you, but I do know this. If you are ever betrayed, it will be by someone you love, someone you like, someone you trust. You can easily avert that betrayal: just stop having friends. (Hermits are never betrayed.) If that seems like too drastic a measure, then try Plan B: when someone you love says or does something that you don't understand, go to that person. Listen more than you talk, and find a way to work it out. Don't let a misunderstanding cause you to throw your best friend under a bus and then hang yourself. Don't follow the example set by Judas ... who, by the way, was a great guy. He had some issues, but don't we all? Don't we all?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Of Roses and Metaphor

"Stop and smell the roses" doesn't mean what it used to mean. At least, not in my experience. I've long made a point of stopping to smell roses whenever I walk past them (beautiful things, aren't they?) but, for quite some time now, I have suffered disappointment at the result. I remember loving the smell of roses as a kid. We never grew them in our yard, so I had to enjoy them vicariously, on the fly-by, stealing discreet whiffs (and occasionally stealing blossoms in thorn-pricked fingers) from neighbors' bushes. A few times during my teenage years I received a bouquet of roses from my father, usually on opening night of a school play or concert, but our family budget didn't allow for such extravagance often. So the smell of roses remains in my memory not merely as pleasant, but as luxurious.

Apparently horticulturalists have devoted considerable effort over the years to breeding ever larger and more spectacular varieties of rose, as well as hardier varieties that will bloom just about anywhere with little or no effort on the part of amateur landscapers. There are even thornless varieties that enable florists to create painless bouquets that strip roses of any poetic or metaphoric depth. In the process of catering to eyes and ease, these scientists have also stripped roses of their fragrance.

You don't have to look too hard to find someone ranting about genetically-modified corn or wheat or cattle of one ilk or another. But where are those who will stand up and express quiet outrage at the mutilation of the rose? "That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet," averred Shakespeare's Juliet, and yet, that which we now call a rose has no smell whatsoever.

When I was twelve, I wrote a poem using the rose as a metaphor for life, contrasting its fragrance and its peril (though the flower is sweet / the thorns are sharp). That poem would make little sense to today's youth, who have probably never smelled a rose-scented rose or, indeed, suffered the pricks of its thorns. And so I toss off a new poem for your perusal.
the rose of progress
beckons to me with its splendor
I stop and inhale deeply
then walk briskly on
cheated once again

Monday, February 10, 2014

My Heroes

Who are your heroes? I guess that depends on what things you most value in a person. For me, a hero is someone I want to emulate, someone who represents something that I hold to be good and noble and true. My heroes aren't perfect people (well, one of them is) but they are all excellent people in more than one respect. And so, after much deliberation, I present for your edification ten people whose examples  have edified me:

Sam Gamgee (Sean Astin's interpretation)
10. Samwise Gamgee (The Lord of the Rings, J. R. R. Tolkien). Sam is the only fictional person on my list though I am an avid reader of fiction and could easily have stuffed my hero file with figments of other writers' imaginations. I made an exception for Sam because he is, for me, a paradigm of selfless, sacrificial service born of love. Sam is in way over his head and he knows it, but he sees the mission through to the end simply because it is the only way he knows to express his love for Frodo and all that is good in the world. I want to learn to love like that.

Harriet Tubman
9. Harriet Tubman. Harriet Tubman stands in my esteem not only as a hero in her own right but also as a representative of all the men and women over the ages who have put their lives and liberty on the line -- repeatedly -- to help others escape the bonds of whatever slavery they themselves escaped. She was free, but she risked losing that hard-won freedom again and again because she was unwilling to leave anyone behind. People called her "Moses," but I think she went Moses one better in that respect.

Alan Shepherd, 1961

8. Alan Shepherd. America's first astronaut won my heart and my admiration a few years ago. Watch the footage of the early, unmanned Mercury rockets exploding in all sorts of spectacular failures and then ask yourself if you would have climbed aboard one of them.

Bob Tuttle in Capernaum
7. Dr. Robert Tuttle. You probably haven't heard of Bob Tuttle, but that's your loss. He became my hero about halfway down Mount Sinai. Go buy one of his books and read it. Then sign up for a tour that he's hosting and stick as close to him as your stamina will permit. If you can enroll in a class he's teaching, do so. Pay attention to him. Pay close attention. There's a good chance he'll become one of your heroes too.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

6. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. What can I say? He had a dream, and little by little that dream is becoming reality. There aren't a lot of people in this country who are brave enough -- or who have enough faith -- to put the harder teachings of Jesus into practice. Dr. King was one of them. He took a stand against evil without resorting to the tactics of evil, and because of him I am able to sit next to my friend Joy on a commercial airline -- or anywhere else -- without either of us being afraid of reprisals.

Alexander Megos

5. Alexander the Great. I don't admire Alexander for his military genius, but for his ability to create culture. He was millennia ahead of his time in embracing multiculturalism.

Connie Matejek
4. Constance Schiavi Matejek (my mother). She'll probably be surprised to see herself on this list, but my mother is an extremely creative and caring individual who inspired a love of learning in me. She's also pretty humble.

Paul of Tarsus
3. The Apostle Paul. It takes a big man to admit he's wrong, especially when he's WRONG. (See Acts 9.) It takes an even bigger man to pick himself up and get over it. (See Acts 13-28 and the rest of the New Testament!)

John the Baptist
2. John the Baptist. John understood the meaning of commitment. While we don't know much about him, what we do know is fairly impressive. John was totally sold out to God, and Jesus said of him, "Among men born of women, there has not arisen one greater than John." Pretty solid character reference, if you ask me.

Yeshua HaMashiah
1. Yeshua (Jesus) of Nazareth. This would seem like a no-brainer, but really the things I most admire about Yeshua as a hero have to do with his humanity, not his divinity. He was courageous precisely because he was not invincible. Having voluntarily set aside his power (see Philippians 2) he faced the same temptations and the same hardships that we all face every day of our lives, and he did so in order that we might be saved. That is not only love, it is courage.

The New Virtue

I am an intolerant person.

At least, I aspire to be intolerant. Far too often, though, I find myself embracing tolerance as an easier route than the one laid out by my God. He told me I need to be loving, but that is so much harder. Love cares enough to confront; love cares enough to correct. Tolerance, on the other hand, denies responsibility and relationship. Tolerance says, "Whatever. Not my problem, Jack."

I'm not sure exactly when our society began to view tolerance as a virtue -- and not just any old virtue, either, but the supreme virtue. Ignoring the ancient wisdom inherent in songs that proclaimed, "What the world needs now is love, sweet love," we began urging one another to be more tolerant. Tolerance was held up as the balm that would cure our nation of all sorts of dysfunction. TOLERANCE headlines motivational posters in our public schools and has become the battle cry of millions of malcontents.

I agree that we need to teach our children that hatred and bigotry are poor choices. But before offering up tolerance as the preferred alternative, shouldn't we ask ourselves what tolerance really means? Is it a synonym for love? Or is it, in fact, the exact opposite of love? Is it loving for a mother to tolerate poor hygiene and bad manners in her children, for example?

Take a moment to look up the dictionary definition of tolerate. Then ask yourself what sorts of things you do (and don't) tolerate. How do you feel about those things? Now ask yourself . . . would you rather be loved, or tolerated?

Happy Valentine's Day!

Monday, January 27, 2014


Skimming back through my older posts, I have noticed that I use the phrase "I'm learning..." quite often.
Side Note: My internal English teacher is screaming at me. "I'm learning..." is not a phrase but a clause, since it contains both a subject and a verb. Now that I've gotten that off my chest, I can go back to writing.
For some reason, this jumped out at me and forced some mental rumination.
Side Note: Ruminate is a lovely word that means, literally, to chew the cud (from the Latin ruminari). When applied to a human being, however, it is purely metaphorical. (Let's hope.) You are about to watch me mentally chew with my mouth open. In other words, what follows is not carefully edited prose but merely stream-of-cud-chewingness thoughts about the phrase clause "I'm learning..." 
My identity hangs on a few key hinges; if you ask me who or what I am, the words that spring to mind are teacher, Christ-follower, human being, tour guide, mother, daughter, seminary student graduate, writer. First and foremost, always, is teacher. Everything else I do seems to spring from that. My mother tells me that I used to teach my dolls to read—apparently they were more cooperative students than my younger siblings. As a sixth grader I attended summer school—voluntarily—not for remediation but to help tutor other students in math. My ministry is a teaching ministry, my writing has an underlying didactic agenda, my children are constantly inflicted with educational outings, guests on my tours express gratitude for how much they have learned, half of my seminary experience involved working as a TA and leading study groups; I've even made it one of my life's ambitions to help my mother realize what a smart and talented woman she is. (My mother is amazingly creative!)

There is only one way to be a teacher—one must first be a learner.

Are you old enough to remember the adage so popular a few decades ago? "Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach." This was back when it was normal to denigrate the teaching profession in word as well as in remuneration.
Side Note: Nowadays, we pay lip service to teacher appreciation, but that's all we do. Teachers are still overworked and underpaid, and teachers are still blamed for everything that is wrong with the upcoming generation. We tie their hands and then demand that they juggle.
There is some truth in the adage. Some. Most high school math teachers are not professional economists; most middle school science teachers are not NASA engineers; most elementary English teachers have not written best-selling novels. Be grateful for that. The truth is, if some people weren't willing to pass up the big paychecks in order to work in the classroom, the upcoming generation would have no one to inspire and equip them to become economists, engineers, and writers. And if most of the economists, engineers, and novelists I've met were placed in a classroom with children, our education system would be in an even worse state than it already is. Knowing how to do something and knowing how to teach someone else to do it are NOT the same thing.

Teachers—true teachers—teachers who have been designed by God to teach—possess a skill that is not easily taught (if indeed it can be taught at all) although it can be trained. Teaching degrees are usually a Bachelor of Science (mine is, at any rate) but teaching is more of an art than a science. The nationwide attempt to quantify what teachers do and measure it on a standardized test demonstrates a gross misunderstanding of the nature of teaching, learning, and education in general.

A true teacher can teach anything. Before that can happen, of course, the teacher needs to learn. I learn so that I may teach. It is that simple.

I close my rumination with one final chew. Look at the Teacher. Jesus. He was so determined to teach us how to be human beings that he became one. You might want to ruminate on that thought for a while.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

TJ10: Home Again

I am home now. Or am I? It could be argued that the “I” who left this place three weeks ago to travel through Egypt, Jordan, and Israel is not the same “I” who sits now at the computer writing this reflection. Experience changes us, inevitably. And for this reason, the “I” who begins this reflection will not—cannot—be the same “I” who will finish it, for the mere experience of writing down my thoughts is a transformative experience. It is this concept of transformative experience that I wish to explore in this blog, and it is my hope that, in reading, you will also be transformed.

On a folding table in my living room sits a collection of rocks, the detritus of weeks of walking, climbing, hiking, searching for myself in the Promised Land that I might build an altar—an ebenezer if you will—as an aid to my ever-failing memory. Rocks. 175 rocks. My nerves were fully engaged as I hauled these mnemonic devices through Israeli airport security, wrapped in my dirty socks and tucked into every available crevice of my suitcase. Perhaps this was just the right thing to do. Perhaps it is why the young Israeli laughed and waved me through without requiring me to open my bags—he recognized and empathized with my desire to hold on to a piece of the Promised Land.  “What is in your shoes?” he had asked, looking at the x-ray image of my luggage. “Are those stones?”
            “Yes,” I’d replied, keeping it short and simple, as I’d been instructed.
            “You have a lot of stones.”
            “Yes, I do.” (Eat your heart out, Charlie Brown.)
            “Did someone give them to you?”
            “No, I picked them up off the street.”
That’s when he laughed and told me I didn’t need to open my bags. Perhaps, like me, he was thinking, These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever (Joshua 4:7).

Am I an Israeli? No, I’m not even Jewish, although when I was a child many people assumed that I was. Perhaps that is where my love affair with Israel began, but I think it really started in 1996, when I fell in love with Jesus. Up until then, I had been serving him, admiring him, respecting him, obeying him (with limited success), following him, and even loving him—but I hadn’t been in love with him. Falling in love with Jesus was a transformative experience, and it drove me into the pages of the Bible with a renewed fervor. I devoured the gospels. Something, however, was missing. Reading the gospels was a bit like watching the news: I was getting sound bites rather than the whole story. Someone else was deciding for me what bits of Christ’s ministry and person were relevant. I wanted more. I wanted to be there.

This feeling has been referred to as “divine discontent.” The result in my life was a season of intense prayer and fasting, from which I emerged even more discontent. Something was growing within me, something that needed to be released, but I didn’t know what it was. One thing I did know: I had only a superficial understanding of Jesus. Eventually I came to understand that I was looking at him through a set of cultural lenses that were so thick as to be distortional. I needed to take off those 20th-century American “Jesus-glasses” and see him as he had revealed himself to humanity. And that meant learning to understand the culture into which he had been born.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

TJ9: Learning to See Beyond

Today I visited some of the most holy spots in Judaism and in Christendom. They looked exactly as I expected, but that is only because I had been forewarned by previous pilgrims (and through advance research) that these areas had become “gaudy.” A more polite term is “ornate.” (You can decide for yourself which adjective is more appropriate when you visit the Holy Land.)
Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem

Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

Side Note: I confess, I am not a fan of religious trappings and lavish ornamentation. Standing in the entrance to one of the gaudier churches, however, I overheard another traveler express aloud something that I have said on many occasions: “Imagine what the church could have done with all this money. I think God would be more pleased if we used our resources to feed and educate the poor....” And a scripture flashed through my mind.
Then one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot (who was about to betray him) said, ‘Why wasn’t this fragrant oil sold for 300 denarii and given to the poor?’ ... Jesus answered, ‘Leave her alone; she has kept it for the day of my burial. For you always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’ (John 12:4-8)
So I have decided to postpone judgment of those who have contributed their life savings and hard work to “gaudify” the holy sites in Jerusalem and elsewhere. We all express love in different ways, don’t we?

Regardless, what I really wanted to see (and knew I wouldn’t) is what these sites looked like before the Church began expressing its love and reverence by covering every available inch with gold, jewels, and miscellaneous flashy stuff. And so, on this pilgrimage, I have had to ask God to give me a second set of eyes, eyes that can see beyond. And God has graciously answered this prayer, Yes.

There are places, for example, where I find it possible to close my eyes and simply listen to the sounds. Sounds of crowds of people: some praising God, some singing, some with crying children, some trying to get a better deal in the market place, most speaking a language I don’t understand ... the same crowd-sounds that existed in the days when Jesus and his disciples walked the streets of Jerusalem alongside people of many nations. Fainter but clear to those who have ears to hear are the sounds of birds chirping and cooing and flapping their wings ... the same bird-sounds that may have inspired the psalmist to write:
Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself where she may lay her young—even Your altars, Adonai Tsabaoth, my King and my God. (Psalm 84:3)
Doves nesting in the Western Wall.
There are soldiers walking the streets, Israeli teenagers, and a stack of riot-prevention shields beside the security checkpoint right outside the entrance to the Temple Mount* reminds me of how the Antonia Fortress overlooked the Temple in the first century, when religious riots were all too common. 

Just outside many of the churches are bits of original pavement, broken columns, fallen stones, remnants of architecture from the first century, a few things Rome did not utterly destroy. I lay my hand on these as often as I can, feeling the coolness of the rocks, their textures sometimes rough but more often worn smooth not only by wind and rain but by countless hands, countless feet. And I am reminded of the Jewish custom of touching the mezuzah for a blessing, and I wonder how many of these rocks were touched by Jewish pilgrims on their way to make their sacrifices in the Temple.

And I open my eyes and look beyond the gaudiness and what I see are pilgrims, hundreds of pilgrims, thousands of pilgrims from all over the world, coming to kneel at the foot of an extremely gaudy crucifix in order to reach into a little hole under the gaudy altar to touch the rock that serves as the foundation, the rock that is not gaudy, the rock that tradition says is the very rock upon which Jesus was crucified. And I remember the words of Jesus:
As for me, if I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all people to myself (John 12:32).

Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem - At the foot of the Cross
Let those who have eyes to see, see.

*The Israelis have established these checkpoints to ensure that no one brings anything up there that might be construed as insulting to the Moslems: no weapons, no Bibles, no crosses, etc. that might “defile” the courtyard of the Al Aqsa Mosque and provoke a riot.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

TJ8: The Cost of Living

Very little time to write this blog and even less time to edit it. Internet access comes at a steep cost here, so I bought just enough to email my family, post a few facebook status updates, and drop a quick note here. I'm in Egypt, where "cost of living" has taken on new meaning. Cost to use the Internet = $10 an hour, cost to drink a glass of water or brush my teeth = 75 cents (as long as I buy the water from my bus driver), cost to use a public restroom = free, unless I want toilet paper, in which case it costs $1.00. Experience of being away from home and seeing how other people live = PRICELESS.

Tomorrow we will be visiting the "Garbage City" which is a middle-class neighborhood made up of people who live and build their homes by recycling Cairo's trash into usable household items (and houses). I'll try to post some pictures. In the meantime, here are a few from the bus ride today.

Very typical to see laundry hanging from brightly-painted balconies.

Donkey carts share even the busiest city streets with cars and trucks.

A Bedouin shepherd boy drives his flock along the side of the road in Cairo.

Street vendors and open-air markets are everywhere!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

TJ7: There's No Place Like the Airport

Today will be spent in airports and airplanes. In the morning I fly from Orlando (A) to Newark (B). That’s going to bring back a lot of memories for me, since Newark is my “home” airport and I love to look at the towns as we approach and see how many familiar landmarks I can spot. Since it’s been over twenty years since I last flew into Newark, however, this isn’t going to be as easy as it used to be, especially when you consider the fact that I have an aisle seat. Shortly after landing in Newark, I’ll be going through customs for my first-ever international flight. Frankfurt, Germany (C), is the destination but I won’t arrive until tomorrow morning, thanks to crossing seven time zones!

The fun began last night, as I struggled to get a full nine hours of sleep. I did have to unplug my phone, but with the exception of one wake-up at 4:32 a.m. I managed to hibernate long enough to recharge my batteries. My friend Theresa arrived right on time, and at 6:35 we were on the road. 
Me at airport (NASA badge censored out)
Side Note: Theresa had flat-out asked me a few weeks earlier, "Knowing me, how early do you really want me to pick you up?" My flight is scheduled for 10:35 a.m. and the airport recommends arriving two hours early for check in and security screenings (8:35), so considering the 45-minute drive to the airport, I could have told her to pick me up at 7:30. But that would have left no room for surprises: flat tires, bad weather, traffic, alligators crossing the road... So I told her 6:30.
It only took me about five minutes to check my bag (destination Cairo, visually and verbally confirmed with the young woman who tagged it) and get my boarding passes. The TSA line was HUGE. I waited about five minutes before I got to the first check point, where I showed the agent my boarding pass and NASA badge.
Side Note: Two coworkers had advised me to flash my NASA badge when going through TSA. Thank you, Dawn and Kerri!
The TSA agent scanned my badge and said, "Wow! That must be a fun job to have."
"Yes, it is," I said.
"Are you traveling alone?"
"Yes, I am."
Gate 48 ... Two and a half hours before scheduled departure.

"Let's see if we can get you in the employee line," she said. Less than a minute later, I was at the front of the line (in fact, I was the line.) I did have to take off my shoes and laptop, but nothing else. So that "arrive two hours early for check in and security screening" took a grand total of ten minutes. Here I am sitting at United Gate 48, listening to a recording of Elvis singing "Blue Christmas" and "Silent Night," and taking advantage of airport Wifi to update my blog.

It's 7:45 a.m.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

TJ6: Of Dominoes, Departures, and Deranged Old Women Who Swallow Animals*

It's finally here, my departure date. That is, it is here if you count the days using the traditional Jewish method, in which a day starts at sunset. If you use the traditional American method, I won't leave until tomorrow.

I'm not sure which option I prefer at the moment. While I am undoubtedly excited and eager to get on that plane (in which case I am ready to leave TODAY), I am also scrambling to make sure I have taken care of all those little things that need to be taken care of before I go (in which case I should probably leave TOMORROW). 

What I really need to do in the meantime is get some sleep. That's because I have a plan to avoid jet lag, a plan first recommended to me back in 1999 when I flew to Alaska for two weeks. "Stay awake," I was told. "Stay awake at least 24 hours. Don't sleep on the plane and don't go to bed until your regular bedtime arrives LOCAL time at your destination. That way, you'll adjust your circadian rhythm to the local time much more quickly." Considering that it took me two weeks just to get used to Eastern Standard Time this year during the "fall back" from Daylight Savings Time, I need all the helpful advice I can get. My friend's suggestion worked in Alaska (and on the return from Alaska), so I'm following the same system on this trip. I even put it on my calendar: Wednesday, January 1, SLEEP!!!

That's because I am going to the airport at 6:30 a.m. tomorrow (or today, if you are Jewish) and flying from Orlando to Newark and then from Newark to Frankfurt. I won't arrive in Frankfurt until 6:55 a.m. FRIDAY morning. (Thank you, inventor of time zones.) Then, after sitting in the Frankfurt airport for about seven hours, I will get to Cairo at 4:30 p.m. Friday, check into my hotel, and sleep. On paper, that's 36 hours without sleep, but really it's only 29 hours without sleep. (Thank you again, inventor of time zones.) Piece of cake. With a cup of coffee. Several cups of coffee. Really strong coffee.
Side Note (just for you, Tracy!): I am not a coffee drinker. In fact, I hate coffee. I am super-sensitive to caffeine due to an accidental caffeine overdose when I was 17, and I don't like the coffee flavor either. However, when I get desperate enough, I can drink the stuff. People who know me well get a little concerned when they see me ingest more than half a cup, though. I literally start bouncing around. Literally. (I do not literally bounce off the walls, although I do figuratively bounce off the walls. On occasion, I literally bounce into the walls, but that happens even without caffeine, so just forget I mentioned it.)
Coffee will only work if I am already rested before the trip, though, which is why I plan to get a good night's sleep tonight. To make sure I sleep soundly for at least nine hours, I decided to stay up real late last night. I knew that wouldn't be a problem, since last night was New Year's Eve and everyone stays up late on New Year's Eve. In fact, my son told me he planned to stay up all night, so I knew I'd even have company.
Side Note: This is what we call the "domino effect." In order to get on Middle Eastern time so I can enjoy all of our excursions, I need to sleep Friday. In order to sleep Friday, I need to stay awake all day Thursday. In order to stay awake Thursday, I need to sleep well Wednesday. In order to sleep well Wednesday, I need to stay up late Tuesday... (Hey, at least I'm not planning to swallow a spider, although all that wriggling and jiggling and tickling would probably keep me awake as effectively as caffeine.*)
You see it coming, don't you? By 9 p.m. last night, both my son and I were fast asleep. That's because my plan didn't extend back far enough. I should have gone to bed early Monday, but I didn't. And Tuesday I worked out at the YMCA and then went on a grueling kayak trip, so by the time I got home and showered and ate dinner I was ready to stretch out on the couch for a little while. Just a little while.

So here I am tonight, hoping I will be tired enough to sleep soundly so that I will be able to stay awake on the plane tomorrow (or today if you are Jewish) without having to ingest enough caffeine to draw the attention of airport security. 
Or a spider. 

*If you don't recognize the literary allusion, see