I recently went to Amish country in northern Ohio to adopt a dog. I’ve had a fascination with the Amish for quite a while now in how they do their own thing without getting swept away by modern conveniences that, in their eyes, take the focus away from what really matters--family and God.
I don’t pretend I could ever be Amish for a whole host of reasons including I’m far too stubborn to be told I can’t go to school past 8th grade, get a job outside the home or ever be considered equal to my husband, but at the same time I am really drawn to the simplicity of their lives.
They are such a tight-knit community that they surround themselves with each other’s support in almost an extreme way. If one person gets injured, the whole community comes together to pay their bills. If someone’s barn burns down, they all show up and build a new one. It’s a beautiful sense of camaraderie, but in the same breath, if someone in the community decides to leave, they are shunned and pushed aside to be forgotten.
The tight ties that bind are the same ties that are so quickly severed if an Amish member chooses to go on their own path and step beyond the bubble of their secluded world.
Having to choose between the comfort and seclusion of my family and community or exploring the big world that awaits me beyond my backyard would be enough to make my head spin. I’ve always had the freedom to dream big and try new things in new places, meeting a wide range of people from all backgrounds.
I view education as power and freedom and something I’m always hungry for, but the Amish view it as a sinful temptation that leads to distraction.I can’t imagine my life any other way than how it is. I bet Amish folks say the same about their lives.
I’m sure I was staring at the family as they brought out the dog to us, but I at least had the social discipline to stop myself from asking all the questions that were running through my head like, “What’s it like being Amish...Do you ever feel curious about what’s out in the world?...Are you truly happy?...”
A father and his grown daughter sold the dog to us and made small talk as the shy puppy hid behind the daughter's dress. They were clearly progressive Amish since they advertised their dog on a website and the woman texted me about him and I paid her through online PayPal, but they dressed in typical Amish clothing and had their buggy parked in the garage.
The man’s meek wife rushed into the house when we pulled into the driveway and spied on us through the window, as we from the outside world made easy conversation with a family who chooses to avoid the outside world as much as possible in favor of cutting out temptations.
The woman was in her mid-twenties is my guess and was unmarried so lived with her parents, as their tradition dictates. She was the one in charge of adopting out the dogs and taking payment. She was clearly intelligent and hard working, so I of course kept wondering why she wouldn’t want to reach for more in life.
I was annoying myself with my judgmental assumption that someone couldn’t possibly be happy with a small, simple life devoid of personal choices.
I’ve had ugly times in my life where I could have benefited from a community making decisions for me to protect me from my stupidity, so maybe the Amish view this surrender of choice as a small trade for something bigger and better beyond themselves.
She and all the Amish exchange their curiosity for the modern world for a guarantee by the rest of their brethren--a guarantee that they will be surrounded by love and support as long as they stay within the boundaries and follow the rules. There will be no surprises and no disappointments because their faith in God is so strong they take it all in as how it is simply meant to be without question.
But I couldn’t help but wonder: Does she really not get curious about walking on a college campus or letting her hair down and putting on jeans or yoga pants or flying to Europe to feel the adrenaline of smallness?
She has never known these things, so maybe it’s a matter of not missing what you don’t know.
Maybe she was thinking similar thoughts of me, wondering how I could take part in such a hectic world where I’m pulled in so many directions I can’t possibly have a quality life.
I wondered how she could live having to wear a dress every day that she made herself, doing nothing but serve her family and community, and in the same way, I’m sure she wondered how I could live fooling myself into thinking wearing shorts and having choices is “freedom.” Her idea of freedom is not being burdened by choices, and my idea of freedom is not being suffocated by a template.
Just when I start to cringe at how oppressive their world must be, part of me is jealous that they have very cut-and-dry rules, so she’ll never have to face the sting of divorce or the stress of shared parenting schedules. She’ll never strive to go after goals she’ll fail at because her parameters have been drawn neatly around her to comfortably contain her and take away any nagging questioning or curiosity she might have otherwise had.
But I’m sure it’s not that simple. I’m sure the comfort of seclusion suffocates her the same way the freedom to dream big and fail often cuts me down to size. No matter how much we try to avoid it, there are no guarantees in life and truly no way to protect ourselves from the blow of obstacles.
We’re both living deeply, trying daily to put the best version of ourselves forward. I might see more in my daily life but who’s to say my life has any more depth than hers does? Maybe it’s about making compromises to feel at peace with your world. For her, it’s having an otherwise forbidden cell phone to run her dog breeding business; for me it’s finding time to garden, getting off social media and looking at the stars in the early morning before I run off to work.
So I stood there next to the Amish woman, wishing I could sweep her up and take her away to my world full of freedom and choices, and I’m sure she was wishing she could do the same for me. We can’t imagine what the other’s world must be like, and the beauty of it is, we don’t have to. We can be judgmental and fool ourselves into thinking our way is the better way, or we can be real and say both paths are laden with pitfalls, fear, and joy, and to move forward in confidence, digging in deep at every turn, no matter if we make our own choices or they are made for us.
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