Modern-Day Pioneers

July is fantastic in Utah, full of outdoor activities and celebrations that last all month-long. It’s my favorite time of year and I always look forward to all the festivities. The sun rises early, which makes it easier for me to do also. The weather is usually sunny and the daylight lasts until 9 pm, making this month the one I can accomplish the most outside. After a wonderful Independence Day celebration of carnivals rides, energetic music, food trailers and beautiful fireworks, our state gets ready for Pioneer Day.

There are parades, rodeos, pioneer reenactments, outdoor concerts and/or movies at the city parks and contests of all kinds put together by many cities and communities throughout the state all month-long. All these festivities are gearing up for an even bigger state celebration. The best contestants of the cities qualify for the state and we all come together every year on July 24th for a massive parade containing school marching bands, police academy on motorcycles and marching military soldiers often with their tanks. Community groups, businesses and churches design and build colorful floats for the parade. Gorgeous horses prance down the street, while others are pulling restored wagons. City officials and beauty queens are on floats or riding in convertibles. There are always funny clowns to please the thousands of people who line the two-mile parade route. Many families camp on the street the night before to ensure the perfect spot for viewing the parade. It’s a big deal here in Utah and fills the month with entertainment. Why do we do this?

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In 1847, Brigham Young and a group of Mormon pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on July 24th. When Brigham first saw the valley, he declared, “This is the right place.” After pulling handcarts or driving wagons with oxen or horses across the plains more than a thousand miles, the pioneers were happy to settle the desert landscape now known as Utah. We celebrate in honor of their hard work and the sacrifices made to till, cultivate and make this new frontier into the beautiful state that it is. Their trek exemplifies courage, faith and foresight and their stories inspire me as they are retold.

They endured harsh weather, death of loved ones and starvation as their food and water supply diminished.  Nothing had prepared the majority of these travelers for the exhaustion and illnesses they would suffer. They were beginners, in a new territory, learning a new way of life.

I see similarities between my caregiving trek and my pioneer ancestors who walked approximately 1,248 miles from Nauvoo, Illinois. Although we have the comfort of a home with plenty of food and water, nothing had prepared me for the anxiety and exhaustion of caring for another or the many illnesses that would arise. I’m a beginner, in a new territory, learning a new way of life that most people do not understand. I am a modern-day pioneer and so are you.

Gratefully, I haven’t seen wolf-pawed graves of the dead or the putrefying carcasses of mules and oxen on my journey. However, worry and heartache has come from the pain and suffering I’ve seen in hospitals and rehab centers. Only faith for improvement keeps one enduring through such difficult times.

Splintered wrecks of discarded carts or wagons have thankfully been absent on my journey, but I have worried about individuals whose family and friends have abandoned them in their illness. It saddens me and makes me wonder what happened to drive their loved ones away. Was it the ailment itself or the attitude of the afflicted person—either way, it’s troublesome.

The pioneers traveled in groups or companies. They rallied around each other, helping one another in their journey. They needed and depended on each other for survival. There are many stories written of selfless, helpful acts that saved another’s life. They mourned and rejoiced together. Likewise, I appreciate the help and support I get in my journey from friends, family, church and support groups. In return, I strive to give back the same to those around me.

The handcart plan was for seventeen miles a day for sixty days, but none of the ten companies could reach that goal. Despair and frustration must have come from the slow journey of seven to fifteen miles on a good day, making the trip tedious and wearisome. Today we can make the drive from Nauvoo to Salt Lake City comfortably in an air-conditioned or heated car in nineteen and a half hours. However, we know the disappointment which comes from unachieved goals and have felt the discouragement from slow progress, along with the worry that comes from an uncertain destination.

The pioneers didn’t know how or when their journey would end. Similarly, we don’t know how or when ours will end either, but like our ancestors, we can carry on with faith in every footstep and hope in a brighter future.

We modern-day pioneers celebrate small victories just as the cities in Utah party a few weeks before the state’s grand celebration. Some of us modern-day pioneers are still waiting for the grand celebration with trust that it will come. If not in this life, a belief that we and our loved ones will be blessed beyond the grave, free from the harsh physical ailments. With confidence, I believe this celebration will be far grander than I’ve ever witnessed and possibly can even imagine.