|Self Portrait of the Pioneer Me|
When I was told that a stake counselor wanted to meet with me, I had a nagging suspicion it wasn’t going to be good. Why? Well, because stake presidency members never call you in just to offer you a piece of cake or a coupon for a tithing deduction. It’s usually for a calling, and not a regular calling like a ward library worker or Sacrament meeting greeter. If it was one of those kind of callings I’d just meet with the bishop or his counselors. No, when a stake counselor calls you in it’s something crazy like girl’s camp director or you’re being called to put together the stake roadshow. I thought, Well Lord, you know me and my personality, so it can’t be anything too off the wall.
When the word “trek” came out of the counselors mouth I knew God was playing a joke on me. Let me just open my eyes and I’ll see that I’m in my bed under the covers. Nope, I’m at church with a stake counselor who is smiling at me like he just handed me Willie Wonka’s golden ticket. “Any questions,” he asked. Ya’ll I don’t know why or what is wrong with me, but honest to goodness, it was the first thing that came to my head. “The clothes,” I stammered. He explained that I would wear “pioneer clothes.” I was paralyzed for a moment and then I said, “When you wear “pioneer clothes” you look like a pioneer, but if I wear “pioneer clothes” I’ll look like a runaway slave.”
For those who may not know, a handcart trek is a shortened reenactment of the 1300 mile trek taken by Mormon pioneers to get to Utah’s Salt Lake Valley. I don’t even know how the word “yes” came out of my mouth, but it did. Once you’re going on a trek it seems like everybody you meet has been on one and they begin to give you tips (which I was very grateful for as I had no idea what I was doing) and share with you how deeply spiritual the experience was for them. That’s where it got a little scary for me.
Sometimes I feel like something is wrong with me. I’ll be sitting in church and someone is sharing the story of a pioneer ancestor, of their trials, their strength, their faith and the narrator is weeping and the tissue box is being passed around. Then when the tissue box gets to me I just pull one out because for some reason I feel bad not taking one and while everyone is dabbing their eyes, I’m making a Kleenex brand paper airplane. It’s not like I never cry, cause I do. Certain music has a profound effect on me, it can stir my soul to tears and I’m not immune from the occasional testimony tear-up.
When I was younger I thought that it was jealousy. There is such an emphasis on genealogy in the LDS faith and it felt like everyone around me knew who they were, where they come from and had this great legacy to share. I was always lucky if I could get the first row of branches filled out on my family tree church projects. To this day my family acts like genealogy is a Mormon synonym for nosy. Over the years I’ve realized why we share the stories of pioneers and the lessons that they teach us. I learned the stories of black pioneers, that looked like me, that made the journey and endured to the end.
I really wasn’t worried about the physical aspects of trek; pulling the wagon, walking in the dust, no electronics, no showers, all that I was fine with. It was this pressure that no one in particular had placed on me, but some how existed; that this experience was supposed to have a deep meaning and be a sort of spiritual awakening. I mean people were brought to tears when they shared their trek experiences and if that wasn’t enough then the movie 17 Miracles came out. Now people were talking about treks like they were Mormon walks to Mecca.
I panicked, I thought, Lord, you’re sending me up in the wilderness with all these church people and now everyone is going to know I have a stone-cold heart, cause I won’t even really care when the doll that is supposed to represent my baby, succumbs to typhoid fever! In the months leading to up to trek I began a quest to find my inner-pioneer. I read my scriptures, I googled, I prayed and even asked if I could swap the pioneer I had been assigned, for Jane Manning James, a black pioneer woman whose story I know well and is dear to my heart. I just knew that if I walked for Jane I would find the meaning in my trek experience.
When the day arrived I transformed from modern-day woman to…well, you see the picture. We got to the wilderness, lost cell coverage, pitched tents, it was hot, pushed carts, sang as we walked and walked and walked and walked. I didn’t feel different. I just felt like me. We forged a river and I felt cold. The men went off to war and the women pulled the carts by ourselves up a steep hill, and I just pushed along thinking; Is this the part where I cry? The trail of trials…nothing and ya’ll already know what happened when my baby got kidnapped…nothing.
I didn’t need to cry, maybe God could make me struggle at least a little. I didn’t break a nail, twist my ankle, get dehydrated, I don’t even remember getting a mosquito bite. I had fun. I had a good time, like I have a good time camping with the fam. At the journey’s end a testimony meeting was held, I listened as person after person shared beautiful testimonies and it seemed apparent in their countenances the effect the trek had on them.
When I got home and people eagerly asked how it was and all I could describe my experience as was fun, I felt like a spot at trek had been wasted on me. I mean, what kind of pioneer would I have made. While the woman in the wagon in front of me poured her soul into her journal telling of struggling to feed her children and watching her sons go to war, you would open my Journal and read; today was fun.
There’s a song in the LDS Children’s Songbook called “Every Star is Different.” I don’t remember ever singing it when I was in primary, it’s not one I hear sung very often and I think I just came across it when looking through the songbook once, but I like it. I told ya music has a way with me. The words are:
Every star is different
And so is every child.
Some are bright and happy
Some are meek and mild.
Every one is needed
For just what he can do
You’re the only person
Who ever can be you!
Trek happened a while ago and I’ve never written about it because, well, as you can see there really isn’t anything to write. In fact this was supposed to be yesterday’s post, but I didn’t feel like it was worthy of being put up on the actual Pioneer Day holiday, so I waited. I wish that I had something more to give you all, I wish I would have just shared a real pioneer’s story. If you’re looking for a deeper meaning or a moral, I got nothing, except…I guess I’m just different, and I gotta be ok with that. Oh yeah, and no one asked me to pick cotton!