My ancestors were Mormon pioneers. This painting is a depiction of my great (many greats) grandmother, Eliza Chapman Gadd.
You can read a little bit of her story here if you are interested.
At church today there were a couple of talks on pioneers, both were really nice. One of them quoted from a talk given in 1997 and I loved the quote. So -- here it is -- it is kind of lengthy but worth reading -- especially when we wonder why we celebrate the pioneers and how their stories apply to us. The speaker is Virginia H. Pearce and she was speaking to an audience of young women ages 12-18. I have even underlined my favorite parts. She summarized so beautifully how I truly want to live.
"When I think of pioneers, tragic scenes come to mind: handcarts in blizzards, sickness, frozen feet, empty stomachs, and shallow graves.
However, as I learn more about that monumental trek I am convinced that along with those very real and dramatic scenes, most of the journey for most of the people was pretty routine. Mostly they walked and walked and walked.
When the pioneers broke camp each morning, the cattle had to be fed and watered, fires built, breakfasts cooked, a cold meal for noon prepared and packed, repairs made, teams hitched, and wagons reloaded. Every single morning. Then they walked about six miles before halting to feed and water cattle, eat lunch, regroup, and walk again until about 6:00 P.M. Then the routine of unhitching and watering teams, making repairs, gathering tinder, building fires, cooking supper, a line or two in a journal before dark, sometimes a little music, prayers, and bed at 9:00 P.M.
Speed wasn’t important. Because the pace was set by slow-moving oxen, no one had to run to keep up with the wagons. On a good day, on a no-problem day (is there ever such a thing?), the pioneers covered about 15 miles. Usually it was less than 10. Imagine how puny that seemed compared to their ultimate goal of 1,300 miles!
On a bronze frieze 2 in the Winter Quarters cemetery, a detail shows a mother resting her hand inside the wagon as she walked the distance to the Salt Lake Valley. She did this because her small child wouldn’t stay in the wagon unless he could see his mother’s hand. Even as they walked forward, those pioneers knew how to help one another.
So what does all this have to do with us in our current world? I believe it has everything to do with us. Most of our lives are not a string of dramatic moments that call for immediate heroism and courage. Most of our lives, rather, consist of daily routines, even monotonous tasks, that wear us down and leave us vulnerable to discouragement. Sure, we know where we’re going, and if it were possible we would choose to jump out of bed, work like crazy, and be there by nightfall. But our goal, our journey’s end, our Zion is life in the presence of our Heavenly Father. And to get there we are expected to walk and walk and walk.
This week-after-week walking forward is no small accomplishment. The pioneer steadiness, the plain, old, hard work of it all, their willingness to move inch by inch, step by step toward the promised land inspire me as much as their more obvious acts of courage. It is so difficult to keep believing that we are making progress when we are moving at such a pace—to keep believing in the future when the mileage of the day is so minuscule.
Do you see yourself as a heroic pioneer because you get out of bed every morning, comb your hair, and get to school on time? Do you see the significance of doing your homework every day and recognize the courage displayed in asking for help when you don’t understand an assignment? Do you see the heroism in going to church every single Sunday, participating in class, and being friendly to others? Do you see the greatness in doing the dishes over and over and over? Or practicing the piano? Or tending children? Do you recognize the fortitude and belief in the journey’s end that are required in order to keep saying your prayers every day and keep reading the scriptures? Do you see the magnificence in giving time a chance to whittle your problems down to a manageable size?
President Howard W. Hunter said, “True greatness … always requires regular, consistent, small, and sometimes ordinary and mundane steps over a long period of time.” 3
How easy it is to want quick and dramatic results in exchange for a day’s labor! And yet how happy people are who have learned to bend to the rhythm of paced and steady progress—even to celebrate and delight in the ordinariness of life.
Don’t be discouraged. Think of those who reach a hand into the wagon to give you courage. Be the person who reaches out your hand toward others as we all move forward together.
When you get into bed at night, rehearse the things you have accomplished during the day. Allow yourself to feel the satisfaction that comes of work completed or even partially completed.
Not only were those remarkable pioneers willing to keep moving forward, they “sang as they walked and walked and walked.” Are we expected to be cheerful as we do our daily work? Well, maybe not every minute of every day. Certainly we are sad and even angry at times. But we can make a decision to refrain from wallowing in our sadness or anger.