Friday, October 06, 2006

Amish Stuff

Paul's nephew, Byran, recently wrote this on his blog:

The Amish Got it Right
I am a Mennonite after all, so I'll comment briefly on the Amish school shooting. In short, they're making me proud to be an Anabaptist.Say what you want about the Amish and their lack of spirituality, but they have truly lived out Jesus in a powerful way during this situation by showing virtually immediate forgiveness and even actively loving (that's nonresistance in action) the family of the man who killed their little girls.

I agree with Byran.

There have been plenty of times when I was ashamed of my Amish heritage--sometimes with good reason--but something about this episode has made me proud of it.

A tragedy makes us find points of connection. I think every mother of young daughters in this country is like me--seeing her little girls lined up against that blackboard. We see our little boys, terrified, leaving their sisters behind. A recent death in the family makes us remember the disbelief, the stillness, the pressing sadness. On a page of tributes on the Lancaster newspaper's website, people talked about how they loved to visit Lancaster County. To me it seemed that they grasped for whatever point of connection they could find. And those of us with Amish in our history or distant relatives among the bereaved feel compelled to let everyone know.

I'm not sure why grief makes us do this...perhaps we want to reassure ourselves that our deep feelings are justified.

For some reason, seeing the pictures and reading the news has set me forth on a sea of Amish memories. I can vividly picture the wakes and funerals and meals afterward when my grandparents died. I remember the long German sermons. I can still hear the group of young people who sang while we buried Grandma Miller. The girls' black shawls flapped in the wind and they sang in high voices a "fast" song, unlike the slow church chants, a song about angels, "die Engel."

I remember what it was like to be in the funeral procession, both as a child in a buggy, with the non-rubber tires rasping on the road and with the horse behind looking into the little window in the back of the buggy, giving Becky and me the giggles; and as an adult in one of the "veltlich" (worldly) cars following slowly behind.

I am thinking in German much more than normal, and remembering words I thought I had forgotten, such as "die Laut" (the casket). I remember the endless line of people who filed by Grandma's casket, women in black dresses, men in black suits. They came and came and came. I knew they had all been in the house somewhere--but where? I remember the meal after Grandma Yoder's funeral, when there must have been 400 people packed into one smallish house, and walking across the living room, holding 1-year-old Amy, was a 15-minute ordeal. "Excuse me." (Wedge my shoulder between two people) "Excuse me." (Squeeze between two more.) At one point I was stuck and while I waited for an opening an old woman behind me started feeding Amy off her plate, without asking me or making any fanfare about it.

Like I said, I'm not sure why I'm reminiscing like this. Am I trying to prove that I qualify to grieve with them, or what?

The truth is, when a child dies, it's not "us" modern people and "them" folks in their buggies; it's all "us." Losing a child is losing a child, Amish, Muslim, Catholic, or anything else. We are all justified in reading the news and weeping.

And any of us who have ever chosen forgiveness over hate can claim a connection with these Amish families and gain strength from their example.

As we would also, they will need our prayers for a long, long time.

* * * * * *

And as I found with Leonard's death, there can be touches of humor in the darkness. Today I read that a reporter tried to dress Amish and sneak into one funeral. A policeman was suspicious because she was wearing --hang on--a pink dress. I threw my head back and laughed out loud, remembering the sea of black at Grandma's house.

And I also remembered today how my BIL Rod, the high-powered MIT-educated Englischer, looked at Grandma's funeral-meal, backed up against the wall, looking out at this room, packed with black, with what looked like terror in his eyes. I have seen Rod crack jokes with Yemeni tribesmen with Kalishnikovs in their hands, but I've never seen him look as ill at ease as he did at that funeral. Then a little elderly woman came up to him and said, "Now who are you?"
He said, "Uh, Rod 'Smith.'"
She looked confused. "Who are your parents?"
Rod said, "My parents are Chuck and Nancy 'Smith' from Seattle, Washington."
The woman looked at him in great bewilderment. "I don't know them," she said.
Rod fled outside and sat in the van with Paul.

(Rod, that's how I remember it. Add your corrections if you wish.)


  1. Thank you so much Dorcas for sharing your thoughts in this post. I agree with Byran (I met him once) also that true forgiveness from the heart is what the Christian life is all about. (BTW) We enjoyed the "book"

    Jim and Mary Herr in Lancaster

  2. I recently attended a funeral for an 86 year old dear friend. I stood at the graveside listening to the singing, thinking about these little Amish girls who would be buried the next day, about the last funeral i was at - Lenny's - and thought, that this funeral of this man, made death All Right inside of me again.
    Grief is never easy. God is always the Redeemer, the Rock.

    sil geneva

  3. Beautiful. You explain that desire for connection so well. It's been years since I've been at an Amish funeral, but I'll never forget them--or the peanut butter bread and pickles! I've linked your post again, if you don't mind.

  4. Wow! What a wonderful post! A colorful (although the color's in black this time) ((with a tad bit of pink)) (((for humor))) journey into the past and a thoughtful commentary of the present. You have made a little sense out of a senseless tragedy. Thank you for taking the time to post this. I hope you don't mind if I link this page to my xanga site. That's how I got to it in the first place. Found it linked at justpeachy's site.

  5. Where did you see the story about the reporter in the pink dress?

    Just curious, Linda Rose Miller

  6. LRM--I saw it in a LancasterOnline story:

  7. And link all you want, with my gratitude.

  8. Hi Linda Rose!!! Was happily surprised to see your name on here.

  9. I know this is an OLD post but I just came across your blog and was reading through it. I couldn't help smiling. I have my own set of memories of my grandparents funeral, not much different from yours, actually. Things my own children could hardly believe, what a different life...