How Do You Eat an Elephant? Or: How Do You Measure Your Pain?

On a scale of 1-10, how do you measure the gut wrenching pain that, at one time or another, we all feel? Is it measurable? Is it time limited? Do you cry? Do you sit mute?  Do you eat more or less than usual? Do you go out and exercise? Or do you veg on the couch?

Sandy Taradash
Sandy Taradash

I think all are the right answers, if there are any answers at all, because we all handle our personal traumas in our own way. I strongly believe no one can tell another how to go about getting over pain, you can offer suggestions and tools for easing the feelings but it’s different for everyone in how the struggles grab and hold us.

With all that has gone on in our world, how can we not feel pain? Why is it if you decide to run a race, the event ends in tragedy? We never think we are sending our kids off to school with the slightest thought they could be dead by the end of the day? And why do we have to worry about going to a movie theater?


The age old question to our G-d. My Bubbie always asked why Moses didn’t get to enter Israel; for many years I asked G-d why my parents were killed at 38 years old. Why were President Kennedy and Martin Luther King taken from us? Why the Viet Nam War? WHY? WHY? WHY? These are a few of my youthful, Baby Boomer quandaries that are so filled with pain.

Somewhere along the way, I connected why and pain and how they went hand-in-hand. Think of how you say the word “why,” it most often causes a visceral reaction!

And there is no denying pain, regardless of the kind of pain. Pain is pain. It hurts. We often have a tendency to disregard some pain, like loss of a job, a miscarriage, end of a romantic relationship because we assume, or others tell us, they can be replaced. I once witnessed a little girl telling her father, “Daddy, my head hurts.” His response was, “No it doesn’t, you’re just tired.” I was so angry inside because he denied the child’s feelings! How does he know her head doesn’t hurt?

Will this reaction from the father be a pattern until the little girl never pays attention to her pain, dismisses her feelings of pain because it was imbedded in her that her pain isn’t real?

In my youthful, inexperienced mind, I wondered if it was the nature of the universe to test us, to continue to put challenges in our face. At some point in my aging process, I decided it was about how we act, not react, to the whys and pains we encounter. It was a given that we were suppose to learn a lesson, go back to Adam and Eve as the first example. But after another decade of being content that I was learning lessons from pain, I realized, it wasn’t enough.

I had a-ha moments as to those lessons but what was more enlightening was the pattern of how I reacted to situations. At some point, I decided I didn’t want to react, but act. React is reactionary and I didn’t like that there was no thinking process involved, no time to evaluate a situation, sleep on it and then make an informed and feel-good decision. I somewhere found a tool for making decisions by wearing them like silk or wool on my skin. Silk feels good, wool itches. Hence, the good decision, the bad decision.

So here’s where the elephant comes in: By taking the why as a normal part of my personal cognitive process—because it’s most likely in response to a painful experience that has already happened—I try to lessen its importance and deal with my reaction by taking one bite at a time and seeing the individual elements that make me react!  In other words, you eat an elephant one bite at a time! It’s too big to do it any other way!

Slowing down, breathing, listening to my head, heart and stomach and aligning them together, separates my reaction to all the whys and allows my pain to find its core. Then I can find the tools to help the pain. It may take a very long time, maybe not, but I’m not reacting, I’m in control of my thoughts and now can deal with my pain and how it makes me feel. I’m not saying this all makes the pain go away, pain may never go away, but I’ve learned to deal with how I act and react to pain.

A dear friend, a young woman in her mid-thirties, for the past three years has been mourning her husband who committed suicide. Someone accused her of making a career out of mourning him and said, “She’s young, smart and beautiful, she should just get over it and move-on!”

I am someone whose husband committed suicide, my parents were killed in a car-accident, so I know something about loss and pain and you can’t just “get over it and move-on!”

This is where I say there is no measurement to pain. We all have stories and you can’t measure whose story or pain is greater than the next person’s, mainly because we all handle our lot in life differently. And that’s not a judgment call. It’s how we learn our lessons, how we act and react, interact with others and walk down our journey G-d has offered us.

I’m a Jew whose history is pain; I’m a Jewish mother whose history is pain. So what’s a Baby Boomer Bubbie to do?

PS…As a Jew, I have more questions than answers!

From One Jewish Mother to Another: We all have our pain….

In Jewish and Buddhist circles, there is the story of the Jewish woman who schleps to the Himalayas in search of a famous guru. She travels by plane, train and rickshaw to reach a Buddhist monastery in Nepal. When she gets there she’s shvitzing and exhausted but she is committed, and thankfully she is wearing sensible shoes.

An old lama in a maroon and saffron robe opens the door, and the woman promptly requests a meeting with the guru. The lama explains that this is impossible because the guru is in silent retreat, meditating in a cave high on a mountaintop.

Not willing to take no for an answer, she insists that she absolutely must see this guru. Finally the lama acquiesces while insisting on the following rules: The meeting must be brief, she must bow when addressing the guru, and she can say no more than eight words to him. The woman agrees and says a silent prayer that her years with a personal trainer will pay off and somehow get her up the mountain.

After hiring a Sherpa and a yak, she sets off for the grueling trek. With hardly an ounce of energy left, her spiritual search brings her to the opening of the cave high on the mountain.

Keeping within the eight word limit in addressing the guru she breathes in deeply, sticks her head in the opening of the cave, bows and says, “Sheldon, it’s your mother. Enough already, come home!”


1/24/2013, The Huffington Post, Ellen Frankel


About Sandra Taradash 56 Articles
As a Baby Boomer Bubbe who still feels 18 but has four grand kids to prove this is the 21 Century, Sandra writes to leave a legacy for the next generations. Her belief that these precious kids need to know their cultural and family's past in order for them to live their future is all the muse she needs! She has a Master's Degree in Psychology and Cross Cultural studies, has written a family history, personal memoir and is completing her first novel. Her grandmother's journey to America and life is her source for her deep belief and love for Judaism.

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