“For Some must push and some must pull
As we go marching up the hill
So merrily on our way we go
Until we reach the valley-o!”
A few days ago, I found myself trying to explain to a co-worker what a Pioneer Trek was and why we–as LDS people–feel compelled to take ourselves on one. Half way through the explanation, I decided that there was really no concise way of justifying why we go on trek. I’m sure she was more confused when I finished my explanation than she was when I started. Suffice it to say; “Pioneer Trek” is a way to try to create the same kind of experience that our ancestors had as they crossed the interior of this continent to pursue their religious freedoms. Today, many LDS people pursue a trek as a way to experience spiritual growth. On many levels.
The youth in our congregations were to be going on a Pioneer Trek, my daughter included. Jason and I were asked to be a “Ma” and a “Pa” to 8 teens–none of whom we knew. We were split into families of 10 and travelled and worked together, ate and played together. We were all we had for 3 days of pioneer-dom.
The Mormon Battalion was assembled in 1846–as the first band of Mormon pioneers crossed the plains. These pioneers, forced from their homes by people and governments alike, found themselves on their way to “Zion” via handcart and wagon. The same government that failed to protect these religious folk then came to them Council Bluffs, Iowa and requested enlistment from their companies. Many men followed the governments plea which ultimately sent them on a 2000 mile march, by the time they rejoined their families in the Salt Lake valley. This left many women and children and older folks to find their way to Zion alone, pushing and pulling their hand carts with their feeble hands and the mercy of God.
Many Pioneer Treks include a “Women’s Pull”; a distance when the women pull the hand carts alone in a significant nod to those pioneer women who did it in their own time. I knew our time was coming and that we would have to face a Women’s Pull. In describing my feelings to my husband before it occurred, I found myself tearing up. The thought of it had me weepy for days before it actually happened–days before we were even out amid the sagebrush of northern Utah.
I couldn’t put my finger on it–these emotions that had me bubbling up inside–but as the women’s pull came closer, I knew this was going to be messy. In our family there was me and my three “daughters” who would be pulling a 700 lb. handcart up a steep and rocky hill. I didn’t need to blubber. It would just make things worse.
It was our turn to pull. One of the girls looked at me and threw her arms around me, already crying. Another was wiping tears from her eyes. Deep down, they knew that this was to be a noteworthy experience. Though they had seen my tears on the trail earlier that day, I felt that I had to be strong. For them.
We started up the hill, slipping and grunting…I stepped on my skirt and ripped the ruffle off, stopping momentarily to tear the entire ruffle off of the perimeter of the skirt to make myself less cumbersome. The heat was immense. We kicked up dust and debris. It was a painstakingly slow process. We had to keep going forward, up that hill, otherwise we would start rolling backward. I felt myself getting sick to my stomach. I could hear all of us panting, trying to catch our breath. Drops of sweat ran down our faces, dripping onto the thirsty trail below. Occasionally we would have to stop, to accommodate a handcart in front of us. Stopping was both a blessing and a curse: we lost our momentum and we also had a chance for sweet rest.
In what felt like hours, we had climbed the top of a hill and now looked onward to another. We could see the group of men at the top, waiting and watching somberly, at their families struggling to bring their hand carts and join them. Onward we trudged. I had to look at the ground. I had to look at each step because looking up toward our goal seemed so painful. Even though it was a few hundred feet uphill it felt so very far away.
As I watched each rock that we passed, soon I began to see the feet of those who had been waiting for us. I couldn’t look up. I couldn’t look at their faces. I felt as if I were about to collapse both physically and emotionally at the same time.
Suddenly, I felt the cart get lighter. Those boys were finally pulling with us. My good husband was pulling. We were no longer doing it alone. Finally, allowing myself a chance to let everything catch up with me, I let them travel on and I sat down on the side of the trail and I wept. I put my apron up to my face and I cried. I knew they were leaving me, but I didn’t care. All I could do was let them leave me and tend to my own erupting emotions.
I could feel others’ eyes on me. I could hear their hand carts pass by and knew that my family was even further ahead on the trail. People stopped to ask me if I was alright. I assume that they were concerned that I had suffered from too much heat and sun and was physically ill. Maybe they were right, a little. But for me, the absolute agony of my emotions was mind-blowing. I could only sit in the dirt and weep.
Again, I saw a pair of feet. This time, they were my husbands. He had come to find me. I threw my arms around him and sobbed out loud into his neck. Like the true champ that he is, he just held onto me and let me cry. He let me cry as long and as loud as I needed to, not asking anything, not saying anything…just letting me soggify his broad shoulder.
Later that evening, after the heat of the day had left us and we sat in the cool evening air with our families, talking about what had happened earlier in the day, It came to me. Women’s pull spoke to me in a way that I could finally understand.
We each pull our own handcart, our burden, with us. Whether we travel alone or with the aid of others, our little handcart is what we try so hard to bring along for the ride. The contents may change over time–be it illness or sorrow, death or change, even happiness and blessings–we pull our handcart and it’s contents over hills and valleys. It is easier with others and nearly impossible alone.
I have a friend, Jane, who seemingly pulls her handcart by herself sometimes. She maneuvers her career,schooling and family and making a turbulent marriage work…
…Sweet Robyn has spent years pulling her handcart amidst the heartache of a spouse with depression and children making poor choices. I know she has pulled alone at times…
…Pearl has brought her handcart along the many miles of her life, dealing with a childhood of neglect and emotional scars. She keeps pulling the best way she knows how…
…Dear Marie has dealt with health issues stemming from an unknown source. She continues to pull faithfully and with strength…
Even though this is in the context of a Women’s Pull, the burdens in our hand carts are not limited to women. These loads are no respecter of persons. I’m sure that each of us can identify with many people in our lives–both male and female–who struggle with the burden of a handcart, sometimes successfully pulling and sometimes not. Sometimes they even sit down on the side of the trail and weep.
In my own life, I have come to recognize that I have been pulling my cart up a hill, not wanting anyone or anything to help me. I have shouldered this burden by myself, almost to a fault. The women’s pull that day helped me to realize that though I am at the yoke of my handcart, I have been pulling alone in the heat. Each stone a boulder, each drop of sweat a sacrifice. However, it has never needed to be this way. I have a God who loves me and is more than happy to help carry my burden. I have a Savior who is more than willing to make my little handcart light.
Why have I insisted that I pull these issues by myself? I don’t know. Did I think I would be saving someone trouble? Did I fully understand the weight of my problems? Maybe it was pride. Maybe stupidity. Knowing what made pull my cart by myself isn’t as important as the realization that I have tried to do it alone and have spent many moments breaking myself upon the yoke of the handcart, fighting to pull it up a hilly trail. Who won in the battle between me and my handcart? I am willing to put money on the cart and have the bruises to prove it.
And, so, I look at the Women’s Pull a little differently than I did before. I understand it a little better and appreciate it a whole lot more. While none of us can ever take away the loads of life, we can make the trail easier by inviting and welcoming those who would help us push and pull to do so. We can invite them to stand by our sides at the yoke to pull or to push with their might from the back of the cart– until we reach the valley.