Nov 11, 2013

When I Need Strength

I am inspired by my distant great grandmother, Henrietta Keyes Whitney. She and her husband, Samuel Alonzo Whitney were baptized into the Mormon church in the early years of its organization. They lived in Kirtland, Ohio and moved to Nauvoo, Illinois. They had two sons, Samuel Jr. and Don Carlos. Samuel Sr. died in 1845 of lung disease (pneumonia). In 1846, the pressure to leave Nauvoo was very high. Henrietta was a young widow, no older than 24 and her sons were 6 and 4. Her late husband's cousin, Newel K. Whitney paid for Henrietta and her boys to leave on one of the earliest wagon trains. Unfortunately, winter was coming and they quickly erected a city of sod huts and stayed for the winter. They called it Winter Quarters. Four days after arriving, Henrietta's youngest son, Don Carlos died. Henrietta and her remaining son arrived in Salt Lake Valley in 1847.

When I was 18 and freshly out of high school, I went on a tour of church sites. We stepped off the bus and I was swept up with the most distinct feeling of intense grief. I couldn't stop crying. No other historical site affected me as strongly as this one before nor since.  I wandered the cemetery and sobbed. I did not know how many had perished. I did not know anybody who had an ancestor that had. I only know that it impacted me in the most personal manner.

It would be decades later that I would come to know Henrietta through a distant cousin that knew of the previous facts. I felt a longing towards her that I couldn't place.  I had unknowingly walked the paths of Henrietta. I didn't recognize my distant grandmother in that place. I couldn't place my disproportionate grief. But perhaps Henrietta recognized me as I passed her son's grave. Perhaps she connected to me at that moment and I felt a fraction of the grief she felt when she buried her 4 year old son and prayed his father was there to greet him. Perhaps she was sharing with me the faith she felt when she turned from the grave for the last time and climbed aboard her wagon to take her remaining son to an unseen place.

My oldest daughter took the same tour I did earlier this year. I told her the story of Henrietta, cried while I talked, and hoped she'd seek out some kind of sign that Don Carlos lived and died. I felt a deep need to acknowledge a mother's son. I felt a need to connect to her that someone still remembers. 

She found his grave marker. She brought this home for me:

Why should we mourn or think our lot is hard?
'Tis not so; all is right.
Why should we think to earn a great reward
If we now shun the fight?
Gird up your loins; fresh courage take.
Our God will never us forsake;
And soon we'll have this tale to tell-
All is well! All is well!

In the years to come that moment would play on my mind, singing to myself,  Gird up your loins; fresh courage take. Our God will never us forsake. Maybe I didn't know Henrietta when I was 18, but I believe she's been by my side since then, reminding me that faith overcomes fear and I have not been forsaken.

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