While visiting family in Salt Lake City yesterday, I was able to view the film 17 Miracles. First, the camera work was outstanding as was the acting and directing, IMHO. The movie helped me to better appreciate why the story of the Willie Handcart Company gets so much attention in Church lore. It really is a compelling symbol of our mortal journey, highlighting the human goodness that can be found in the midst of trouble, and the tender mercies of the Lord that we can experience on a trail of tears. Further, the humble faithfulness of Levi Savage illustrates so much about the Gospel that we need to know in our day. How does one deal with the failings of mortal Church leaders while yearning for the perfection that only God has? Levi’s example is one we should discuss even more that we have in the past.
I know the frustration of working with well-meaning leaders who make what decisions that surely seem to be wrong. I wish I had always exhibited the graciousness and humility and true leadership shown by Levi Savagte who knew that the late departure of the Willie Handcart Company would result in tragedy. Though rebuffed for his wise counsel to wait until spring and even publicly criticized by his priesthood leader, Levi refused to walk away, refused to give in to his pride, and humbly stayed on to support the group and sustain his errant leader in faith. He was not of a mind to belittle others in their mortal failings, but to build up the Kingdom of God and render relief to those who would suffer. My soul rejoices that there have been and still are such men as Levi Savage, and I encourage all of you to ponder the example depicted in this movie.
The problem of pain and suffering is also beautifully addressed in the true story told in 17 Miracles. We are here on a mortal journey where death and suffering are inevitable. God could have prevented the tragic late departure of the group and whisked them all safely to Zion. But our journey must go forward, and though we may suffer, He is still there. Though we may die, He is still there. His tender mercies may come in surprising ways–an angel-baked pie for a woman about to go mad in despair, a miraculous stranger offering dried meat jerky, a rescue squad at the final moment when all hope seemed lost, and Levi Savage himself wondering, as my own father did once in the midst of battle in Korea, who it was at his back pushing him forward, turning to find no one there.
In my father’s case, it was while desperately seeking to protect his men under a savage attack, picking up a 75-mm recoilless rifle and rile mount, a load normally meant for 4 or 5 men, and running with that load up a steep hill to get the rifle in position to repulse an attack As he climbed the hill with his great burden, he thought it was the men in his squad pushing him forward, but when he reached his destination and turned around, he saw that the men in his squad were still yards away, delayed by the time they needed to strap on backpacks to carry the shells for this massive weapon. He was puzzled, and only later appreciated that this was one of many miracles he experienced in the midst of war’s horrors, miracles that softened his heart and helped a rebellious young man find God. I owe my own life and a part of my own testimony to the miracles that he experienced, though the price he paid in experiencing war was a great one, coupled with many tender mercies. So it is for many mortal journeys. May we not forget the lessons of those who went before us to bring us to Zion.