Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Spilling of Innocent Blood

The murders of young Amish school girls in Pennsylvania earlier in the week hit me hard. It's not as if we don't have our own school shootings in this state; we seem to lead the troops in that sad scenario. Every time I read or hear of yet another shooting, a small part of me is shamed. These are our children, and we're failing them miserably in so many ways.

But the shootings in Pennsylvania ripped through me on several levels. My sister and brother were born in Lancaster, PA, home to thousands of Amish folk. My extended family lived (and a few still remain) near that region, and I spent many childhood summers there. From the time I was small, the Amish and their horse-drawn buggies were a familiar sight as I enjoyed carefree summer days with my cousins and grandparents, aunts and uncles. I remember feeling sorry for the little girls whose dresses were so drab, whose dolls had no faces. And always, always, I pitied them having to spend those humid days in full clothing while I cavorted in shorts, tank tops, and flip flops. In my eyes, the Amish children seemed so serious and sullen. I wanted for them the same fun and laziness I had the luxury to enjoy during those summer months.

In my teens, I looked at the Amish more with disbelief than anything. My lifestyle was so far removed from theirs; I had little understanding of how a life so simple and removed from my reality could be fulfilling. No phones, no lights, no motor cars, not a single was Gilligan's Island without Gilligan or the Island. I just didn't get it. Why would anyone voluntarily adopt that way of life?

It was not until adulthood that I came to admire the Amish and what being Amish actually meant. Because they are a throwback to centuries long gone, society has tended to mystify and revere them. I never fell into that trap; I'm sure they have their bad seeds just as we English do. I find it hypocritical that some sects are not allowed to own cars or phones or any modern conveniences that might make them slaves to their trappings, but that they can use them if need be. I absolutely hate driving behind them on long stretches of highway, moving, as Max would say, at the speed of smell. But.

To the extent of my understanding of and familiarity with the Amish, I consider them the one population truly closest to God. In a world that is a political jungle, they take no side. They live in a war-waging country, yet are unapologetic pacifists to the core. They have no need to impose their beliefs on anyone, whether from the pulpit, the classroom, or the White House. And as their reaction to this recent horrific tragedy demonstrates, they embody the essence of forgiveness. Their daughters' simple pine coffins not underground yet, they spoke of the need to forgive the deranged murderer. And despite their own grief and immeasurable loss, they crowded his funeral so that they might offer solace and comfort to his tormented family.

These people live their beliefs not only publicly, but in private. They shun those temptations that might lure them further from their God, yet they offer their teenage children a respite from the strict limitations of their lives to give them a chance to see what life outside the Amish community is like. During this time, their children can engage in any activity they choose: drinking, drugs, name it. The purpose of this milestone is to allow young people to make a choice to remain Amish or to choose a life in mainstream America. I know of no other Christian denomination as a whole that gives its young the room--not to mention the trust--to make a faith choice based on experience. Perhaps that's why there's such a rebellion from the church among young people today. To me, the Amish don't talk the talk; they walk the walk.

And now their gentle community has been desecrated. I can't help but wonder what went through the minds of those innocent girls as they experienced those last moments of life. Surely they had nothing against which to compare what they were going through. They had no reference to the outside world and its evil. Did this ignorance of their fate deepen their fear, or lessen it? According to newspaper reports, even in their terror, they were seeking meaning, asking their captor why he wanted to harm them. And one 13-year-old volunteered her own life for the safety of her younger peers. Even in the face of death, she rose above the sheer wickedness of the situation to offer herself as a sacrifice. That is an example of the love of God, and it was manifested in the selflessness of a young girl.

There is no ending to this story. I fear this is but a beginning.


Judith K. Witherow said...

I fear it's a continuation brought on by the evil of the adults that preach war and hatred.
When those we trust deny others basic civil rights it's bound to cause intolerance in countless ways.
The hypocrisy is nauseating.

Judith K. Witherow said...

I fear it's a continuation brought on by the evil of the adults that preach war and hatred.
When those we trust deny others basic civil rights it's bound to cause intolerance in countless ways.
The hypocrisy is nauseating.

Mary A. Shafer said...

So much of what we've been fearing comes from a world outside our own. Though it's more frightening this way, it's also somehow easier to take, because we can label that kind of evil "Other."

This evil was so much worse because it had a face, and that face was one of our own. Not some "terrorist" from overseas, but a nondescript, unremarkable face that belonged to one of us. I'm sure none of us is in a hurry to claim Charles Carl Roberts as "our own," but he was.

He was of our culture, one in which we are becoming so alienated from one another that it's somehow not quite truly shocking any longer when a grown man ties up little girls and shoots them in front of each other because of some guilt he harbored from a long-ago episode of poor judgment and sick behavior.

One in which someone this sick is allowed to walk free because we're socially loathe to get too far involved in others' business, while the government is now free to pluck any of us off the face of the planet and hide us away pretty much forever without due cause or having to prove anything, just because one lone man with judgment proven equally poor thinks it should be so.

Like you, Rebecca, I am shamed. I am shamed by a country whose citizens get more worked up about the outcome of a freakin' football game than they do about a horrifying situation like this, or about a government that's constantly and steadily eroding the civil rights granted us by our own constitution.

And now North Korea has entered the nuclear fray, and that same, scary little man is again making threats. No wonder the Amish choose not to participate. Can you blame them?

Indeed, God help us all.

april t said...

having grown up camping every year in and around lancaster, the amish were somethin i was familiar with. or so i thought until i read your article. i did not know about this respite they allow their teenage children. interesting to say the least.

sadly, what struck me most about this horrific event? is that the families have no photographs of their children. i cannot begin to imagine never seeing my daughter's face again. not having something tangible to hold and cherish. sadly, given enough time, some memories fade. i know this. i live this. photographs are all that remain in faded memories...

i am not certain i will ever learn to be as forgiving as the amish. it is an on-going process that i work on each and every day.