A few years ago I dug a hole in my front yard. Deep enough that in the pictures where I'm standing upright you can just see the top of my head.
The line coming into our house from the city water main cracked and I was in the middle of canning peaches–a water intensive activity.
I turned off the water at the street (which is technically illegal to do yourself) finished the canner load I was working on, and headed out to investigate a suspicious looking puddle. After a few heave-ho's with the shovel I ran into some PVC. Not wanting to cause any more damage, and knowing that the phone, internet, water and power lines all ran right through that area somewhere, I discarded the shovel and started in with a garden trowel.
A few feet down, I ran into another pipe, going a different direction. Pretty soon I uncovered a veritable maze of pipes. Plastic, metal, you name it, they were all there, crossing at every conceivable angle. I had no idea there could be so many hidden conduits of power snaking into one home.
I had to resort to a tablespoon in order to get in and around the pipes. It did seem strange to me that the dirt and rocks were so well packed around the pipes–I mean, who took the time to backfill that hole so well?
As the day wore on, the hole deepened enough that I could actually get in there myself. And yes, I found the faulty pipe. Aha!
Lesson #1: Never hire the town drunk to do your plumbing.
The only man I knew who was skillful (and merciful) enough to repair the pipe without getting any little bits of gravel in it (which he assured me would spell doom for the backflow assembly in my kitchen cabinet) was significantly larger than myself and would need a reasonable amount of elbow room.
I had been digging for something like six hours, scooping up buckets of rock and muck and tossing them aside. I had six children as muddy as I, no water to wash them in, and no working toilets, either. Did I mention it was hot?
When my husband arrived home from work, I turned the digging over to him. "Could you make it bigger?" I asked him. "Merle is going to fix the pipe."
I went over to my mother-in-laws, took a shower, and came back.
The hole was seriously four times as big as the one I'd made. He'd been at it for all of fifteen minutes. With a shovel.
Only one pipe in sight.
Lesson #2: Apparently, during construction, it's common practice to toss scraps into a pile and push them into any holes that need filling. Scraps like odds and ends of pipe. If I'd broadened my hole much more, instead of digging straight down, this likely would have been apparent to me, as I'd have exposed the unattached ends of the little pipe jungle I'd been so careful not to disturb.
I learned lesson #3 this Sunday, and it had nothing to do with overripe peaches, building scraps or muddy children.
President Monson related the story of a newly widowed German mother forced from her home in East Prussia following WWII. One by one, she lost all of her children to starvation and winter temperatures as she trudged over a thousand miles, dragging her small, wooden wagon.
The arresting image, for me, was of this mother, bent over the frozen earth, clawing away for hours to dig each child's grave with the only implement she had–a tablespoon. Did the remaining children watch?
I have dug in the Spring; rocky, but forgiving earth, in search of a fractured pipe while my children made mud pies. I have shielded my children from small and large dangers and wept over shared disappointments with them. I have never had to defend my family from pillaging troops or stood over my child's frozen grave, let alone dug it myself with a tablespoon. Nor have I walked away, one last infant in my arms; nor later had to dig one last grave–with my bare hands because by then even the spoon had failed.
I am still puzzling over the significance of this story. Beyond the obvious lessons of faith and hope that kept her from leaping in front of a moving train when she so deeply wanted to; or acknowledging that clearly, circumstances can always be worse than I can imagine–what is it that I take home from this sermon?
I keep seeing the tablespoon. And maybe for me, that's it–that all over the world; throughout history; in whatever circumstances we find ourselves as women, wives, mothers–there are common threads. I may not know your sorrow; I haven't suffered your pain; but through it all emerges a compelling sisterhood that echoes through time and space and culture so that when I, an American mother living in a privileged time, hear the story of a German widow in the nightmare that was post-war Europe, my fingers ache with hers; my heart stops and then strains to beat again, on imagining her grief. Unknowingly I have knelt beside her, digging in another dimension, ignorant of my blessings, as my body mirrors her anguished motions.
Lesson #3: We are not so very different that an object as simple as a spoon cannot aquaint us with one another.