A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


Jacob gently laid the last stone on the shallow grave he had dug for Elizabeth, his beloved wife. Overwhelmed by exhaustion and grief, all he wanted to do was lie down beside her and sleep.


The voice of his 8-year-old son, Benjamin, brought him back to the reality of life on the trail with a pioneer wagon train.

"Yes, Ben?"

"I made this." The boy handed his father a flat piece of wood. Using a blackened stick from the campfire, he had scrawled a single word on it: "Mama." A wave of emotion washed over Jacob as he remembered how Elizabeth had patiently taught Ben to read and write.

"That's a fine marker, Son," Jacob said at last. "Your mama'd be proud to have it."

The boy smiled bravely through moist, reddened eyes, and together father and son planted the marker on the grave as a final tribute to the woman they both loved.

"Excuse me, Jacob."

Both Jacob and Benjamin turned to see the wagon master standing nearby, his hat in his hand. For the first time, Jacob noticed the activity behind him, where his fellow travelers were finishing breakfast and packing their covered wagons in preparation for another day on the trail.

"I know this is a hard time," the wagon master said softly. "But we need to be goin'."

"No!" Benjamin cried. "We can't go! Tell 'im, Papa! We can't just go and leave Mama here!"

The wagon master looked at the boy, then at Jacob, who slowly knelt to speak to his son.

"Ben," he said, "we've got to move on."

"But Papa, Mama . . . "

"Nobody loved your mama more than me," Jacob said. "But she wanted us to make a good life for ourselves. We can't do that here. We've got to move on."

The boy stared with tear-filled eyes at his mother's grave. Somehow, deep inside, he knew his father was right. They would have to move on. But not now. Not today. "Can't we wait a few days?" he asked. "We can catch up to the others later."

Jacob shook his head. "I'm sorry, Son," he said, "but in a few days the company will be so far ahead we'll never catch up. And without them we can't survive."

The boy's chin quivered. He looked at his father and then at the wagon master, who squatted so he could face him eye-to-eye. "Ben," he asked, "do you remember a few days back when we were goin' through that rough stretch on the trail?"

The boy nodded.

"Some said we should turn back," the older man said. "Others said we should stop a while, like maybe the trail would change in a day or two. But do you remember what we did?"

"We just . . . kept a-goin'," the boy said.

"That's right," the wagon master said. "And we made it, didn't we? It was a tough pull, but we just kept pluggin' along, and we got through it." He paused, then he added: "Just like I figure you and your pa'll make it through this rough stretch of road you're on-if you just keep a- goin'."

And that's what they did: they kept a-goin'. They moved on. And they survived.

The same is true for us today when we encounter rough stretches along the road of life. No matter how much we may want to quit or turn back or give in to the pressures, most of the time the best thing we can do is just keep a-goin'. We may have to slow our pace from time to time, and, occasionally, we may even have to change directions. But as long as we just keep pluggin' along, eventually we'll get through it.

And we'll survive.

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--- © Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through and