The Trek of a Lifetime
When I was a child there would be times when I would begin to complain about how my life wasn’t fair. This was usually as a result of being denied some privilege that I felt I was entitled to. I would complain to my parents or grandparents about how demoralizing it was not to have the same rights as my friends and how no one understood the mental and physical scars I would have to carry with me my whole life as a result of not getting what I wanted or deserved. Like most adults, my parents and grandparents showed very little empathy for my situation. In fact they seemed to enjoy hearing me complain.
At first I didn’t understand why they delighted in hearing me complain but then I realized it gave them a perfect opportunity in which they could interject how good I really had it. It didn’t stop there though. They would then begin to tell me how difficult their lives were and how easy mine was. I would have to listen to stories about how my father had to milk a whole herd of cows before he was allowed to go on a date or how my mother had to walk miles in the snow to get milk and groceries so that my grandmother could make dinner. These stories paled in comparison with those of my grandparents who would tell about how they lived in a tent in the dead of winter and that they had no running water or bathrooms. These of course were completely foreign to me and I came away half wondering whether they were making this up. Honestly, was I supposed to believe that my grandfather was chased by a bear on his way to the school house?
As I grew older and began to have children of my own I too found myself practicing the ways of my forefathers and recounting the hardships of my youth. These discussions usually began soon after I uttered the phrase, “Back in my day” followed by the list of childhood grievances I have been carrying since my youth. Granted they don’t compare at all to milking herds of cows or defending my homework from a rabid grizzly bear but still in my mind they were severe trials. My children typically do as I did when I had to endure these stories; they roll their eyes, temporarily tune out my voice, then when they sense the stories are complete they proclaim, “but you just don’t understand” then march off to their rooms mostly to complete the drama they have just demonstrated.
I have begun to realize that maybe I don’t understand. Perhaps their trials are monumental and maybe I do need to be more empathetic to what they are going through. On the other hand I don’t think they really understand how easy their lives have become as a result of what their ancestors went through. I wished there was some way for them to grasp what it was like but until someone could create a way to time travel that didn’t seem possible; at least until now.
When our daughter Tiffany became a teenager she came home one night from an activity complaining about how her life was in complete turmoil and how no one appreciated the struggles of a teenager of the 21st century. At tonight’s activity it was announced that during fall break from school a group would be travelling along the pioneer trails of Arizona re-enacting what it was like to make the trek across the vast expanses of the west. The trek would be very authentic. Each “pioneer” would wear period clothing and they would be required to carry everything for their journey within a 5-gallon bucket. Nothing from today’s time period would be allowed meaning no cell phones, no iPods, no video gaming systems, etc.
The children would be assigned to a pioneer family consisting of a mother and father and perhaps an older sibling. They would be provided with a handcart which would carry all of their belongings along with cooking gear and food. The “pioneer kids” would be required to pull this handcart along the trail. The kids would not be told where the trail went or even how long the journey. They would periodically stop along the way for meals that again consisted of period style food. They would camp out at night and the trek would last 3 days. While on this journey the group would suffer some of the same plights that the real pioneers would face. Somewhere along the line families would have babies and have to care for a new-born infant along the way. At other times a family would lose a loved one through death. In the case of the trek the deceased would be removed from the company and taken to the end of the trail where they would stay until the “pioneers” completed their journey. This of course meant that some companies would become smaller and the remaining kids would have to pull more of the weight literally.
At first Tiffany was adamant that she wanted nothing to do with this. As far as she was concerned it sounded stupid and would not teach you anything. Besides, who wants to learn anything when you are on fall break? After several nights of discussion and counseling she finally relented and agreed to go. Trina spent the upcoming days making a pioneer dress and I assisted in making sure she had the necessary gear which included leather gloves, a tin cup, a pie plate, a spoon, and a lantern made of a soup can and a candle. The day she left was one of apprehension and uneasiness. She promised to go into this with an open mind.
At the conclusion of the trek, Tiffany came home and her countenance was very different than when she left. She seemed genuinely grateful to be part of the family and at least for the first little while she even helped around the house. It was a surprising change and I wondered exactly what happened that caused this. We accompanied Tiffany to a fireside where the campers and their families came together to hear reports of the trek. As we parked the car and made our way into the building we had several people approach us wanting to meet the parents of this special young woman. It seemed odd to hear our daughter talked about in such a revered way. Some of the people even became emotional as they told us how special Tiffany was.
We entered the meeting and found a seat. The audience began to quiet down and the leader expressed his gratitude for everyone’s attendance. He spoke at length about the journey and how proud he was of these campers. He talked about some who did not want to be there and refused to help but how their hearts changed as they watched their friends press forward pushing this handcart across the desert landscape. He spoke of how these kids developed a bond and how they actually became a pioneer family. It was heartwarming and gave the parents in the room a sense of pride in how well their children had done. So many times we hear about how bad the youth are today but it is times like this meeting that made me understand how important these young people are.
The speaker then began to recount some of the hardships these kids faced and the struggles they had to endure. He spoke of what happened to the camping dynamic when they introduced a new born infant to some of the families and how things became much more difficult. He then talked about the struggles as some of the pioneers were lost along the trail. At this point the audience was riveted to his talk. He spoke of one family who was working exceptionally well together. He told how they added a baby to the mix yet this family continued to work together each taking a turn with the infant. He told of how along the way the infant had died and how this family had to come to grips with the loss of a loved one and how they held a burial and had to leave the unmarked grave behind. Throughout it all the family held together and worked towards the common goal.
The speaker’s tone became like quiet voice during the next phase of his talk. He told how the leaders had to decide that one of these “pioneers” must die. The leaders struggled with the thoughts of breaking up this family and that they could not decide which one would not continue. After many discussions and a few prayers the leaders chose a young woman who would be taken away. They went to the family and broke the news to them. These strong teenagers who just a day ago were nothing more than acquaintances broke down and cried at the thoughts of losing one of their “friends”. It was a long and tearful good-bye and the young woman was led off and away from the journey. Tears were shed not just by the speaker but by several of those in the audience as they felt the pain these kids had gone through.
The remaining members of this party continued on, their workload made harder by the fact that the deceased girl was one of the hardest working members. Still they refused to give up partly because they wanted to see the end of the journey and partly because they wanted to pay tribute to the member they had lost. As the trek reached its destination, the members who had died were allowed to meet their “families” as they entered. The speaker told of how this young hard-working girl ran out to meet her friends and how they gathered around to celebrate their reunion. Again the tears flowed throughout the auditorium at the vision of the events. The speaker then revealed who this young woman was. All eyes turned to our daughter Tiffany who suddenly felt very uncomfortable at being singled out. As a parent I am not sure there can ever be a moment as special as I felt that night.
Now two years later our daughter Whitney came home and in a frustrated voice announced that she was being asked to spend her fall break on some stupid pioneer thing. Trina and I looked at each other and the emotions welled up inside of us. When Tiffany came home and Whitney lamented about how her life was going to be ruined, it was an older and wiser Tiffany who took her sister in and explained the meaning of what was about to take place.
Tiffany approached the trek leaders and pleaded with them to allow her to go again. Here was a girl who two years ago wanted nothing to do with this and now she could think of nothing she wanted more. The leaders asked why she wanted to endure this again. Her response, “I was not able to finish my journey and I’ve always felt I let my family down.” The leaders were so moved by her desire that they agreed to let her go. As a parent I begged them to not let her die along the trail. I could not bear the thoughts of losing her again.
This morning Trina and I loaded Tiffany and Whitney into the car. Each of them was dressed like pioneers. Both were leaving as caring and somewhat naive girls but I am confident that they will return changed. They will have a much greater appreciation of what their ancestors sacrificed in order for them to have what they have. They will understand what being part of a family really means. And hopefully they will know what it means to be reunited with the ones that they love at the end of the journey. It’s hard to comprehend how all of this can occur in 3 short days but I can truly testify that it does.