In talking with a staff member today, I relayed a story from some time back when I was really struggling with everything.
My dad had just died, my heart was crushed, I was angry, and I did despair. I was lamenting the situation of our home at the time…we had a posse of skunks that apparently had been living multi-generationally under our house, which was much older than the owners had originally indicated. We had peacocks in the driveway that lived across the street but liked to roost in the trees in our yard, and scrabbled and screamed as evening would come on. I swear I saw a rat run through my kitchen and into our library one day, but I couldn’t ever find it, or a hole where it would hide and I never saw it again, and nothing was ever chewed or pooped on, so who could say what the phantom menace actually was.
I was struggling at work with a troll of a boss who used and abused me to his heart’s content, mostly because he could, he was older and had power, I was young woman and did not. I felt alone at church, no fellowship or camaraderie, no friends really. I’d been trying for several years to have a baby and had been tragically unsuccessful, and I felt physically exhausted from all of the fertility treatments, and also had yet to be diagnosed with PCOS, and was suffering greatly from a number of its effects at that point in time.
It was a rough go and I was plumb out of good cheer, and faith was dragging her pretty little feet, and hope was on a coffee break. I will never forget how upset and angry I was at everything, at life, at the unfairness of it all. And that most obnoxious and yet despairing of questions crept up to my lips and said “Why me?? Why me.”
My husband, who is my dearest friend and my most beloved of confidants, knowing my pain, and feeling my despair, looked me square in the eye and said “Tracy, what pioneer woman wouldn’t love to have what you have, if it meant that she didn’t have to be outside in the elements, and that she didn’t have to sweep a dirt floor?”
I should note at this point, that I was the president of my chapter of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers, of which I am a descendent. My pioneering ancestors, both in the United States and in Brazil, are very important to me. My family, those I know and those I don’t, are some of my greatest examples. Their sacrifices do not go unappreciated or unnoticed, and I always wanted to make these people that came before me, the women in particular, proud of the kind of woman I was. So knowing this, his comment was particularly poignant. I paused.
He went on to say “Tracy, I know you are struggling now. But you are a trooper. You always push through, don’t stop now. Keep moving on. You can’t lay down on the trail and wait for death to come, you just keep going until one day it is better or you reach your destination…or you are dead.” Which elicited a morose and cynical and almost hopeful little smile from me.
And he was right. I can’t just lay down by the trail. I have to keep putting one foot in front of the other, and eventually I’ll find myself around a quiet evening campfire with a bowl of pottage to warm my insides, and some quiet rest before I tackle it all again in the morning.
Being me, though, I twist the story a little more, and when I get down or blue, I remind myself that I don’t want to fall down in the prickers and the sagebrush waiting for the coyotes to come and start licking at my feet as I complacently wait for my fate…and so I gather up my skirts and continue trooping along my way, chanting “You can’t lay down along the way, up you go, moving forward now, at least your braids aren’t frozen to the ground and you didn’t just leave your dead husband and baby behind wrapped in quilts under the sky and in the elements because the ground is too hard to make a dent in to dig a grave.” And so I say a little prayer and I troop.
My father has been gone 13 years now…and this conversation took place not too long after his death…and this counsel, and this mantra, of trooping through and moving forward, has served me well through the years, and I have never forgotten it, and I am infinitely grateful for the tender mercy that was delivered to me through a loving husband who knew what I needed to hear. I don’t know that he thought that this would stick with me through the years, but it has, and it has become my trusted go-to thought when I am struggling through some trial or difficulty.
It’s not always an easy path, and sometimes I feel like I am blazing the path and that there is no one who has gone before, but that’s not quite true no matter what it feels like. There are many who have gone before, and as they blazed a path for me, so I blaze a path for those who come behind me. I troop along, so they can troop along. Just as I gain strength from my predecessors, I hope that I can disperse some faith and hope and strength to others.
This life is a beautiful thing, there is joy and there is pain, and there are trials and difficulties, but what wondrous learning, what opportunities for service and for love…ah the love…what great love there is in helping each other, and in learning, and in forgiving, and in moving on, and forward, and upward, trying to become holier beings that shine and share and serve and give.
When in your darker hours, do not despair. Instead, stand up, know that no matter what you are loved, and that you are needed and you are believed in. Know that there is beauty in your soul and kindness in your heart and purpose in your living and being, even if you have forgotten it, or if you can’t see it or feel it just now.
Don’t let the coyotes lick your feet…get back up and keep on walking…picking flowers and singing songs along the way…because either you will get there sooner or later or you might die along the way…but at least you died trying and trooping…and that’s something to learn from too.