Some lessons from the Amish
October 6, 2006
With the horrific wave of school violence last week culminating in the deaths of the innocent young Amish girls, my mind has wandered to my childhood.I grew up in New Jersey and spent many summers traveling with my cousins to a campground just outside of Lancaster County in Pennsylvania. It was during our first trip when I was about 10 years old that our camping “neighbors” were an Amish family. My cousin and I quickly befriended the two boys who were also about our age while the adults also grew close. We spent the week sharing amazing meals, swimming and fishing at the lake and sitting around the campfire till the wee hours of the night sharing stories and jokes. We all bonded so closely that at the end of the week they invited us to come to their home and spend a few more days. We did so and I can honestly say it was some of the most magical memories I have of my childhood. The simple yet graceful lifestyle of the Amish people would be an inspiration to our mainstream society if it were truly understood.During our visit to their home, (which became an annual event after that first summer including them making visits to New Jersey to our home and beach house), we were welcomed into their world with loving and open arms. They treated us like family and vice versa. We would go to large family dinners, where there would be close to 30 or 40 extended family members all dressed in their traditional garb and arriving in the morning in their horse and buggies to begin preparation of the dinner for the evening. The women baked breads and began on a dozen other tasty dishes, while my cousin and I would help the men milk the cows. And though there were many chickens harvested, I was not privy to that particular preparation. The rest of the day was spent by myself and the kids playing in the fields, riding horses and scooters, playing horse shoes, badminton or just wandering around the sprawling expanse of dairy, chicken and tobacco farms in anticipation of the evening’s amazing smelling feast which wafted to all corners of Lancaster County. The meals, preceded by songs and prayers of thanks, would be the best home cooked experiences anywhere in the world, with just as equal company.The qualities I will always remember these fine people for are their compassion, their friendliness, their hardworking ethic and just how extremely fun they are. This all stems from their love for family and for God.When last weeks event occurred, I was in complete shock and called home immediately to find out that, of course, my friends who live less than five miles from that school house were closely tied to the families who were destroyed. I modestly admit that I was moved to tears of compassion as well as anger a few days earlier hearing of the evil that occurred here in Bailey, and afterwards just completely disgusted of the human condition which would make someone else follow and do what he did in Pennsylvania.In my emotional turmoil and confusion, I was shocked into a reality so unexpected when I heard the words that evening from the Amish families of the victims and their community who expressed forgiveness and compassion for the man who did this and his family. They said it is within their faith to forgive, since healing cannot begin without it.If they can forgive, how can I not? They are truly beautiful people who have no ulterior motives for these words. I cannot imagine how strong a person can be to be in such obvious pain from actions, which cannot possibly be more offensive and harmful and still be able to immediately pull together and offer forgiveness and compassion. It is my opinion that they are among a very small percentage of people in this world who could possibly come to this conclusion after such an experience.Now, to top off all this is the latest news that the oldest of the girls in the schoolhouse at the time of the executions asked to be shot first in attempts to spare some time for her friends. Then another girl asked to be second. These girls were 13 and younger, which is testament that the values of faith and love for each other is instilled and ingrained within them.All I can say is that our violent world could learn a few things from these Amish people. If everyone acted in the fashion that they do, we would simply not have the wars and suffering we know so very well these days.My thanks are to them, once again, for opening my eyes to a deeper understanding during this very troublesome week of useless violence and pain in our world.Dennis Burns is a resident of Snowmass Village. Soapbox runs weekly on the Sunday opinion page. This spot is a forum for valley residents to comment on local topics. If you’d like to contribute, contact Naomi Havlen at 925-3414, ext. 17624 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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