How to eat an elephant
I have an itch to write and this lovely man is very much to blame.
I didn’t get to spend a ton of time with Grandpa Jack. However, the time we did spend together was impactful because he was an impressive man. When he passed almost three years ago, I shared this story with my family. Now, I am sharing it with the world because I should. Because he pushed me to be a better human and I wish to pay tribute.
I was a freshman in high school, tasked with writing a 20 page paper on Warren G. Harding. My government teacher was the formidable Mr. Braun. If you passed his class with an A, you were highly favored for a spot in his AP history class. The stakes were high and so, of course, I procrastinated. It was Friday, the paper was due the following Friday, and I was spending the weekend with my Dad. I hemmed and hawed and pretended to go to the library (oh, I went but I ate Bonnie Brae ice cream and sat on the lawn). Dad observed my lack of progress and said, “get in the car, we’re going to see Jack.”
And so we went to Park Ave West. Do you remember how it was wall-to-wall books? I do because Grandpa moved books so I had a place to sit. And he moved books to make room on the table. And then he walked around the library-that-ate-his-living-room, pulling books out and placing them in front of me. The stack grew bigger and bigger and my spirits sank lower and lower. He explained what I would find in each book and tapped on my paper to remind me to write. "But Grandpa! I don't have the time. How am I going to read all this! How am I going to read all this and then write all those pages?!" My logic was sound - surely he would see - this mountain of work would end me. He leveled his gaze and asked "Ali, how do you eat an elephant?" We stared at each other. I held back sarcastic retorts while I ran around inside my head looking for the right answer. He answered, "one piece at a time."
I wrote my paper and it rocked. But more importantly, I got it. He reached me and I was careful to tuck this piece of wisdom into my pocket. Over the years, I've relayed it to friends, used it on clients, and dropped it on my sister when she's gone "but Ali! how am I going to do that?!" And each time I pull it out, I hope for the same solid delivery that knocked my 15 year-old self flat on her rear. Thanks Grandpa, I needed that.