Sep 28, 2011

17 Miracles

I don't usually do movie reviews on my blog. Not because I don't enjoy movie reviews. I just like to have movies be a "fun" thing in my life... no work. Just watch and enjoy or laugh if it's a dumb movie. But recently I saw a movie called 17 Miracles. I didn't know what the movie was about; we saw it kind of on a whim. And Skywalker's sister recommended it highly.

I groaned when the movie started and I realized it was (yet another) cinematized depiction of the handcart companies, crossing the plains, yada yada.

But honestly... after sitting through the first 15 minutes, I realized there was something different about this movie. Something brutal. The directors didn't pull any punches. We saw frostbitten cheeks with the skin peeling off. Cracked, festering lips. Gangrenous feet. Starving people who looked, truly, like they were starving--emaciated, disturbing. Dead people looked dead.

It really tore at me. Honestly. I cried. I don't cry often, and when I do (admitting huge flaws here) I feel rebellious and angry at the people who see it happen. Except I feel safe around skywalker, but imagine NSG angrily scrubbing her face of saltwater and blaming the producers for depicting things... well, as they really were.

You see, I think we sometimes forget the pioneers were real people. Pioneer women grieved just as much as any woman today does, when their child dies.

One of the most heartrending scenes, to me, was a woman dragging her handcart with her five-year-old-son and her 1-year-old baby girl in the back. The baby girl was sick, and needed her attention, but the woman knew she had to keep up with the company or else none of them would survive. So there is her five year old son, bundled up with his one-year-old sister whose face is pale and still, and whose eyelids are horribly chapped with frostbite. And every once in a while, the woman looks over her shoulder and asks, "is she dead yet."

And the famous story of the couple who crossed the prairie together, the girl insisting that they wait until they get to the valley before they marry, so they can claim all the temple blessings from the start. NO kissing, even. WHen she is sick, he gives her his rations and doesn't let her know. He carries dozens of people across the Sweetwater River and, on the last trip, falls in the river himself and needs helping out. That evening, he dies of exposure. So she takes his body, wraps it in her shawl even though she badly needs it for the rest of the journey, because she doesn't want to leave him there on the prairie without some symbol of her love.

It all sounds typical hokey mormon sentimentality. But I have to say it felt so real in this movie. These were not gorgeous mormon models... they chose real-looking people, and that made it real to me. And I came away feeling all guilty and tearful and wondering... why do I have what I do? Why don't I have to go through privation, hunger, and working myself nearly to death? Why are all my children so healthy, so safe, so full of food and water, when women just like me buried their children on the prairie under two feet of snow and walked away, knowing wolves would dig them up? It really made me think how soft and ungrateful I am sometimes.

It's given me a sort of reckoning, too. Too often I'll have a long list of tasks that I'll stop in the middle of because I've gotten too "tired," only... what does that mean, really? I've decided not to can all the apples, even though they're rotting in the apple box, when my great, great, great grandmother would have saved her children with my apples? Was more tired than I could ever imagine, and still worked, still walked on, stumbling and feeling like her heart and lungs might give out from fatigue, so that her children would live the life she planned for them?

As I cut and blended and heated and sealed jars of applesauce the other day, I thought to myself, yes, my back aches. Yes, I feel a little sick inside. Yes, I'm feeling overwrought and snappy... but I'm going to finish this box of apples. This box of apples is a gift. If I decide to quit when I could have kept going and preserved all of this fruit that my family picked, then I don't deserve the bounty I've been given. And who knows, in our current economic conditions, how long "bounty" will last?

Could I survive on the prairie?

Today I was tempted to just do the dishes in the sink. My dehydrator trays have been waiting for a week, sticky with fruit-leather residue, for washing. AT first I thought, I'll leave them for another day. Then I thought, No, I'll remove all the trays and stack them on the counter so I know I have to wash them and they'll be on my mind, but I'll do them later.

And then I thought of those women with their bare, chapped feet and their half-rations of flour-and-water gruel, and I rolled up my sleeves and washed all of the dehydrator trays.

I live a very soft existence. People tell me I'm "Amazing" because I have 6 children age 9 and under. I feel blessed because all six of my children, age 9 and under, are healthy, well-fed, and well-educated. People tell me I'm superwoman because I homeschool my kids. I feel grateful that I have enough education to teach my children and enjoy their company, and that I don't have to make them work hard all day doing the chores that would keep our family in food, clothes, and shelter if we lived 100 years ago. I just wonder...

what else should I be doing?


Putz said...

do you know that you see things differently than most of probably 98% of the people<><>,.they don't think things are wonderful<><>they look at theirselfs and she says why don't we have a boat pulled by a travel trailer, and i won't home school because it is too hard, and they say let us get a gardener to mow our lawn, so we can get away sooner on the weekends, and my kids don't always have designer choltes{clothes} so lets get more money and then maybe we will be happy<><>,.you must think you still live in happy valley, provo><<><>you are and feel so blessed but most of the world would say you are just crazy<><><>plus DRAT you, you have a published book<>><><i swear i am going to write a book about my adventures finding brigham's gold

Putz said...

but serioously me and the kids and the grandkids feel the same way you do, blessed right here in ephraim, good people, good towns, good snow college education, good values

Putz said...

and especially good wife

merrilykaroly said...

Oh man. I think constantly about these things but instead of working harder I just feel incredibly guilty for not working harder. And guilty for wanting an epidural this next time around. From the way you described that movie I don't know if emotionally I would be able to handle it! That's the pansy that I am. Thanks for the review-- we were wondering if the movie was good. And I don't think any of that sounds hokey Mormon or whatever. It never does to me-- it always just sounds... Hard. (-Adele)

NoSurfGirl said...

I will also be recieving an epidural this time around :) There's doing work that needs to be done and there's bringing things uncessessarily upon yourself. Is that an incredibly ridiculous thing to say? I hope not. Honestly, my labors go more smoothly when I get the epidural. My babies heartrates don't drop as low. I'll take it... over having stillborn babies born on the prairie. I know what you mean by guilt though. Maybe it's a fine balance? If it inspires us to work harder, it's not a bad thing, but if it immobilizes us and makes us feel like crud... well then, that's not a good thing either. I admit I fall into the second category at times.

PsychDoctor said...

I am also related to Clark Allen Huntington who helped carry the saints across the Sweetwater...

NoSurfGirl said...

Psychdoctor (btw, love the handle) you have got a lot of good genes going for you! My connections are Elizabeth Bradshaw, famous for swimming across the river with her 6 year old son on her shoulders, and Martha Robinson Blackham, who settled near Manti.