Saloma Miller Furlong
Author and Speaker

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Snapshots 6: Coming to Terms

As per my last blog entry, I was feeling like my job of writing about the two years and eight months that I lived back in the Amish community was daunting. Usually when I think of that time period, I think of how difficult it was for me to succumb to the Amish ways after four months of freedom. In many ways, I’ve tried not to think about that time period of my life — at least not if I could help it.

Then on Saturday night, after writing what I did on my blog, I got a new and different perspective. It came about because I pulled out letters from that time frame and began to read them. These are letters I got from other Amish people — cousins, aunts, and uncles from New York and Wisconsin and friends from several states. I have quite a stack of these letters, and I ended up reading until midnight. By then, I was almost thinking “the Amish way.” And here is the interesting thing — it was not as bad as I thought it would be. In that frame of mind, I was able to see that there were moments in which I enjoyed my life within the Amish — whether that was getting together with my girlfriends for competitive rounds of Boggle or Probe, playing Frisbee out in the field, having an especially fun day teaching school, or traveling to other Amish communities in New York, Michigan, or Wisconsin. There were references to several things I would have forgotten, such as this one to walking up a long, steep hill to a scenic view with two of my cousins in Conewanga Valley, New York.

Click to enlarge

I was definitely searching. At the time, I was looking for a different Amish community, partly because I really disliked bed courtship, and yet I longed for male companionship. Partly because the bishop in my home district made my life difficult. And partly because I found that part of Ohio drab and uninspiring. I loved landscapes that had vistas, and for this one must have hills, if not mountains. One Vermont friend, who traveled to my community once said, “It’s so flat, it’s almost downhill!”

I was being mentored by an uncle, who was encouraging me to look around and find the a community where I could feel at home. In the end, however, when I assessed what I really wanted in my life, I knew there were things I’d never be able to have in any Amish community: more formal education, personal freedom, and choosing a love relationship in which there was a real understanding of one another. The persistence David had shown by pursuing me for the two years and eight months we were separated was a pretty good indication that we were meant for one another. (And how right this turned out to be!)

In a reverse way that we often use nostalgia as a file to remove the edge of the “good old days,” I think that perhaps I was remembering my years back in the community as drudgery, as though I couldn’t wait to get out of there. After reading these letters, I recognize that I needed that time back in the community to assess what’s important in my life. When I left again, I was much more confident than I was the first time. In the end, whether I did this consciously or unconsciously, I weighed what I would lose with what I would gain, if I left.

Perhaps by remembering my life in this time frame as worse than it really was, I was justifying the reasons why I left. Having gotten this glimpse into it, I’ll have to remind myself that the choice I made to leave again certainly was the right one for me to make, but it doesn’t mean that life back with the Amish was always dark and gloomy — I had fun there, too. In this frame of mind, I wrote about the first morning that I awoke, back in my home community. Here is an excerpt:

Four months ago, when I had left the Amish community, I had made an immediate change from my Amish life to the outside world. There was a stark difference, but the transformation from being Amish to becoming myself as “Linda” had occurred naturally, because it was a choice I’d made. Everything was new in the beginning, so I had gone from a familiar world to the unknown. I would have thought transitioning from the world of the unknown back to familiar surroundings would be easier than going the other way had been. Now I realized that going the way of freedom comes more naturally than working against it. I contemplated the question, Is it better to have known freedom and lost it than to never have known it at all? I decided on the spot that the answer for me was a definite yes. No matter what happened, no one could never take away those four months of freedom I had experienced.

With that thought, I got up and pinned myself into my Amish dress, combed out my hair, pulled it up and clasped it to my head, the very same way I’d promised the hairdresser in Chesterland just months before that I would never do again, and then covered my hair with my Kopp. There was a new nephew downstairs I’d never met, and two others I hadn’t seen in four months.

 

Me with my oldest nephew, Lester.

Amish baby boys wear dresses until they are out of diapers (or did at the time)

I am out of sequence a little bit with my Snapshots Series, but not by much. I have no photos between my fourth-grade class and one that was taken when I was nineteen or twenty. I’ll go back to that one in one of my future posts.

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