Saloma Miller Furlong's Blog
'Among' the Amish but not 'of' Them
I apologize to those who do not understand my experience, unless you have walked in “our shoes” it probably does not make much sense. I love being “home” ! ~ Delmar Martin
First I want to thank everyone for contributing to the lively discussion about the decision David and I are facing of where to choose to live. I had no idea there were so many people from our generation facing the same question that we are. I no longer feel alone in this. I appreciate all the thoughtful comments and stories about your journeys and for offering encouragement in the decision we face.
Today I turn to a question from Carol that I will try to answer :
Were you to choose Ohio, is there even a smidgen of a chance that in a vulnerable moment you might make a decision to go back to the Amish? In reading some of your writings, and I can’t point to specific ones, I’ve almost had the feeling that eventually that might be the direction you would take. Sorry if I’m way out in left field on this, but sometimes long term feelings of guilt in family matters play out in inexplicable ways.
Carol, this is a fair question, given that I have expressed how much I miss certain aspects of my Amish heritage at times. I was re-reading letters from my mother from the early 1980s, right after I left the second and final time.
Photo by Saloma Furlong: The last Amish home I lived in
I had left a situation in which I lived in a little home near the school where I taught. I was warned by others that I would “never again have such a good living situation” and that I would one day regret leaving it. This photo was taken in the past five years. I lived there from 1978 to 1980.
Mem used all kinds of Amish guilt to pressure me to return. In one letter she was responding to my plans to marry David when she wrote:
Well, Saloma, I feel I should write and warn you about a few things that are on my mind that I worry that will happen sometime in your life if you go ahead with your plans. I’m so afraid you will come to the time that you will wish yourself back in the Amish church. No I don’t mean we have no faults. Who doesn’t? I can’t put into words just how I mean. Among the world people raising children is even more difficult than it is by the Amish. Maybe you won’t agree with me now but the time will come when you will have to. Even tho David seems to be a grand person and I don’t doubt but what he will be good to you and all that. But I would like to warn him what he is liable to run into marrying an Amish girl. There will be times when you will be moody and he won’t know what they trouble is, maybe. And you won’t want to talk about it. But talking about things really helps, I’ve found out. You will probably think — Things can’t be worse for you than they have been for me, but they can. I feel I have done what is right as near as I could. Sure I’ve failed to do the — Well, I’ve made mistakes and many they were. But I think I can look up to God for His help. And get help one way or another. Sometimes better than my own plan.
If I could respond to Mem now, I would have so much to say about this Amish guilt trip she wrote up that Sunday afternoon. But I will focus specifically on her prediction that I would wish myself back in the Amish church. I would write this to her:
It is not hard to see that every bit of advice you offered was geared towards convincing me to give up my plans to marry David and return to the Amish. Along with the advice, you made negative predictions about my life, should I carry out my plans of marrying David. That has me wondering if you wished those things on me. I remember even back then I was determined to prove you wrong, and I have in most cases.
You made the prediction that I would someday wish myself back in the Amish church. So far in my life, I have not had that wish, and I don’t think I will. I appreciate my freedom to be myself and cannot imagine ever wanting to bury all that and fold myself into the Ordnung of the church.
Even though I don’t wish myself back in the Amish church, I still miss aspects of Amish culture, such as the chanting during church, wedding, and funeral gatherings; the close community ties; being part of a culture with such deep traditions; and the rituals of humility like footwashing.
Perhaps back when you wrote this letter, you didn’t make a distinction between missing aspects of the Amish culture and wishing myself back in the Amish church. These kinds of nuances were not part of the Amish way of thinking.
This is exactly where I am: acknowledging that I miss aspects of traditional community life, and yet not wanting to be an Amish community member. There are aspects of my present life that I would not be willing to give up to be part of an Amish community.
For most people, the main difference they see between the mainstream culture and the Amish is the plain dress the Amish wear. That would be an easy transition for me. I could go back to wearing plain dresses in a heartbeat — in fact I might even enjoy that compared to trying to stay up with the latest styles and fashions in the mainstream culture.
Another outward difference many see is the eschewing of technology among the Amish. This would be harder for me to give up than it would be to go back to wearing plain dress. I’ve grown used to my computer, my car, my modern kitchen, my vacuum cleaner. Even still, I could give all this up, long before I could give up who I am today.
I have always been a philosopher at heart, even when I was a little girl asking questions of why the Amish can’t we have Christmas trees, musical instruments, or bicycles. The common answer of “It’s just the way it is,” was so incredibly frustrating to me — back then as well as now.
Amish life is not about going your own way — it is about going along. For women and girls, that can mean a whole lot, especially if one is surrounded by men who would abuse their power of their women and girls. I learned this the hard way… all without an advocate when I was growing up.
It was not until I left the Amish the final time that the healing began from the abuses I endured. There was a long period of healing, as I began discovering who I am, separate from the community in which I grew up. I was being shunned, and I lived far away from my community, so the severance was pretty complete. I have at times in my life, been grateful that I was shunned by my community. That may sound odd to some, but I was no longer trying to stay in the good graces of the Amish church, which means I didn’t feel I had to act a certain way. Instead, I was free to fully become myself.
It is this self that I could not sacrifice to become a full member of the Amish church. I love to have the sky as the limit in terms of free thinking and free expression. It has allowed me to write two books about my life, giving voice to the Amish life I’ve lived. I thought I had healed from the abuses I endured before writing these books, but having my voice heard (and understood), has added another whole level of healing. I love my life today.
When that vanload of Amish showed up in Vermont to return me to Ohio back in 1978, I could not resist. The “becoming me” was not yet strong enough to stand on my own. David describes seeing my spirit “roped and tied,” and that is such an apt description. I cannot imagine ever allowing my spirit to be captured again. This is why I could never become a member of the Amish church.
Having said all this, I find I still have a need to close the 600-mile gap between my life and Amish life. Most people who leave the Amish do not move so far from “home.” And most of them do not marry someone who did not grow up in Plain society. I made a complete break. Many years later, I feel a pull in the direction of being among the Amish, but not of them. I have come to know myself and I am quite certain that I can maintain that “self” even while living among my people.
About family guilt. I don’t think guilt plays into my desire to be near my people. My parents are both gone, my sisters all left the Amish, and I have no connection to my Amish brothers. This pull back toward my Amish heritage is something altogether different.
Delmar Martin described in the comments of my last blog post, how he returned to his community to live among his people. Most people who read his comments might say, “Why would you want that?” But this is the connection we have to our roots, those of us who were brought up in Plain society. As we get older, many of us have an inexplicable pull back to our roots. For more about his experience, you can visit Delmar Martin’s blog.
As Delmar Martin wrote: “It is simply ‘being’ where you truly know you belong. It is ‘that place’ where peace and freedom would wait for me to get there…”