William threw his tired teenage body to the ground in the sparse shade of the first tree they had seen for several days. “That’s it! I’m through! I’ll not take another step!” he said.
Caroline stood beside him anxiously, torn between love and loyalty for her older brother and the fact that the pioneer wagon train with which they were affiliated was moving on without them. She nudge him gently with her foot.
“Come along, William. We don’t want to fall too far behind.”
“I don’t care. Let them go. I’ll just stay here the rest of my life.”
“I shouldn’t think that would be very long, since you have no food or blankets.”
“I don’t care,” William said, closing his eyes against the dust and the heat and, perhaps, life itself. Then he added, softly: “It’s too far. I just can’t do it.”
Caroline was startled by what she was hearing from her brother. They had been through a lot together — their mother’s death during childbirth in England; the family’s immigration to America, a perilous voyage during which their younger sister died; working with their father to build a new life for themselves on the banks of the Mississippi River; enduring religious persecution; and their father’s accidental death just a few weeks before the start of the trek to the American West. They had walked, side-by-side, every step of the way from Illinois to wherever this place was, and through it all William had been strong and courageous. Caroline had leaned on his strength, even come to depend upon it. But now, she had to be the strong one.
“You can’t leave me alone, William,” she said. “Not now.”
“I’m not leaving you,” William insisted. “I’m staying. If you go, you’ll be leaving me.” She paused a moment, watching the dust settle on the parched ground behind the last wagon as it rumbled up the trail. “All right,” she said at last. “But at least walk with me the rest of the day. Then you can come back here, if you like.”
That seemed like a small request to William. Surely he could walk just one more day. It was the least he could do for Caroline. “One more day,” he agreed. “Then I’m through.”
When he arose the next morning, Caroline wasn’t in her blankets. He finally found her on a small rise just outside of camp.
“See that hill off in the distance?” she said as he approached her. He turned to look.
“Yes, I see it.”
“I wish you would walk that far with me,” she said. “Then you can go back to your tree.”
William continued looking at the hill. It didn’t seem to be such a great distance. Surely he could walk with Caroline that far. After all, she was his sister. “I’ll walk with you to the hill,” he agreed. “But no further.”
It required two days for the pioneer company to travel to the hill, and by then Caroline was focused on a range of mountains looming on the western horizon. She persuaded William to walk with her “just that far.” And then to the other side of the mountains. And then to the river beyond that. And then to the hill beyond that. And then to the next range of mountains.
And then, suddenly, their journey was over, and Caroline had coaxed William into walking with her more than 1,000 miles. She didn’t do it by convincing him to walk 1,000 miles all at once; she did it by urging him to walk with her five or 10 miles a day, one day at a time.
Life often confronts us with journeys that seem long and obstacles that are overwhelming. It can be discouraging to look down the road at the enormity of the task before us and to consider all that needs to be done. But we need to remember that we rarely accomplish any great thing all at once. Rather, we do it just as Caroline and William did.
One hill, one river, one mountain at a time.