Stalking the Amish

I said I was going to stay away from religion in this blog, but today I am making an exception.

My friend Michele is a writer. This summer, in Ohio, she had a week to kill between dropping off and picking up her daughter and niece at summer camp, so she decided to avail herself of some of the local Amish community.

“Thinking I will learn something, I visit Amish country. Sure enough, there is nothing to do. As promised, I see people in buggies and on bicycles. I see boys fishing in ponds. I see people walking up and down roads. Everyone seems cheerful. I find a windmill maker, a birdhouse maker, a chair maker, a broom maker. None seem particularly anxious to sell anything.

In Yoder’s store, where I buy a few hand-drawn coloring books, there is a small index card with writing, in script: ‘Newlywed Special. 10% off furnishings for all newlyweds, to set up your new house. To be used by your first anniversary.’ There are cups, and bowls, and plates, and coffeepots. There are dishtowels, and trivets. There is, in this small set of rooms where the only sound is that of a ticking clock, everything one could need for a house.”

So I asked Michele about her experiences. Had she gone specifically to learn something, or had she gone merely to observe? Is she, as I asked her pointedly, a seeker?

No, she said, she is not a seeker. There is a Buddhist phrase she asked me if I knew of: “Before enlightenment, chop wood, haul water. After enlightenment, chop wood, haul water.” In other words, do things one at a time; they need to be done. She went looking to see if the Amish live their lives one task at a time. She did not come away with one answer.

I am struck by the image of that general store. It was not the Town Square general store of our minds a la Little House on the Prairie; it was a man’s house, a few rooms of which were devoted to commerce. Can you imagine finding all you need to set up your house and live your life in one store? Sure, Target or Wall*Wart fit the bill, and, of course there are charity second-hand stores like Goodwill that could, too. But the idea of parsing your life down from what you want to what you only need? Now there, there is a thought to live by.

I believe we all find something inspiring in a willful existence. Unplugging from the hurly-burly craziness of 21st century life for an 18th century one sounds appealing to those of us trying to declutter and simplify our lives. It may not be THE answer, but there is something small there to learn. Chop wood…

5 responses to “Stalking the Amish

  1. Willful is a good word. One of the things that people really don’t seem to get about the Amish (not saying you don’t…just the general “people”) is that they really don’t eschew technology…they just make sure that it has the proper place in their lives. Amish woodmakers do use modern equipment. Amish businesspeople do have fax machines, etc. It is up to the community to decide what is appropriate and what is not. I love that aspect of their lives. I wish more people thought that way.

  2. Robin (Bumblebee)

    Since I began my own personal movement to SLOW DOWN, I have a whole new appreciation for the Amish and their way of life. No, I’m not getting a buggy or tossing out my designer heels. But I do see much to admire in how they choose to live and what they hold important. In a world that is obsessed with the likes of Paris Hilton and Brit Brit, it’s refreshing to see people who still embody goodness and wholesomeness.

    –Robin (Bumblebee)

  3. Hello again.

    I’ve missed your posts.

    The amish are a funny bunch. My mother grew up a strict Mennonite (she’s a Yoder) in an almost total Amish/Mennonite community in Iowa. I spent many summer months in that town. I loved visiting the country Amish store with no electricity and even getting to ride in a horse and buggy. They definitely have great morals when it comes to simplicity, but there is a lot of dogmatic nonsense in the religion itself-like all religions I suppose.

    Anyhow enough rambling…

  4. Jason: Thanks for commenting, and clarifying. We all have a tendency to pigeonhole people, especially those in relatively closed societies like the Amish. But again, intentionality, and shared purpose, were my point in this story, a point from which we could learn.

    Robin: (Brit Brit?) In terms of stark contrast, what the Amish and like societies value and what ours does…well, let’s just say ours doesn’t have much to say in that matter. Designer shoes aside, of course.

    BB: So glad you’re back amongst us! And I am glad you shared your own experiences here (much closer than many of us, of course). I am the last person on the planet to condone any dogma or patriarchal system, believe me. But here’s my friend Michele actually going out there and attempting to see what’s doing: it is something I would never have the balls to do, but surprisingly am still very curious about. The small thing, that’s the thing: one small store with everything you could possibly need. Amazing.

  5. I have a minor Amish obsession! If it weren’t for the religious part (I’m more Buddist than anything) I’d be very tempted to join their communityl

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