This may surprise some of you, but I am completely and totally enthralled by the Mormon Pioneer story. Any song, story, film, or talk dealing with the pioneers can reduce me to tears. Many of my children refuse to sit next to me in Sacrament meeting on Pioneer Day. When the story of Mary Goble Pay is retold, I begin to cry at the Platte River, and by the time her mother dies between the Little and Big Mountains at the entrance of the Salt Lake Valley, my eyes and nose are red and blotchy and my sobs and sniffles are so loud and wet they can be heard throughout the chapel.
I'm a convert, and have no Mormon Pioneer ancestors, so I don't know what it is about their story that has grasped my heart so strongly. I suppose it's the epic, archetypal, "Hero's Journey" that I relate to. I won't go back to Joseph Campbell and try to compare his elements of a hero's journey with our pioneers, but I do want to name some of the facets of the Mormons' trek that resonate with me.
First, the journey starts with the death of their Prophet and all of their hopes and dreams for a new Zion of peace and safety. The pioneers are willing to enter an unknown wilderness because of their faith and belief in something outside of themselves.
Next, they are cast out of their homes and must divest themselves of treasured possessions. This is just wrenching for me. It symbolizes the worldly things we must cast aside as we take our spiritual journey. I suppose I must find this difficult in my own life, as the tale of pianos and china left by the side of the trail holds such pathos for me.
The tales of selfless sacrifice along the way are an important element of the story. Some of these have been embellished to the point of legend, but are important to us as a people. These include Mary Fielding Smith's determination to beat the captain of her wagon train to the valley (and the anointing of her ailing ox); Robert Parker who went back to find his young son carrying his wife's red shawl; and the young men who carried some of the Martin Handcart Company over their last crossing of the Sweetwater and suffered the effects the rest of their lives. These stories highlight our better nature and remind us of the courage and cooperation we must maintain as we help each other toward our goal of eternal life.
I love these stories of bravery and faith. They strengthen me and encourage me to continue my journey. I've got a journey coming up ahead of me in the next few months that may be as difficult as that faced by the pioneers. I hope I'll be found as courageous as they were.
A Moment of Empathy
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