By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it. The nonexistent is whatever we have not sufficiently desired. ~ Franz Kafka
More than ten years ago, I began writing down my childhood memories. That was before I learned how to craft my writing. My first versions read much like a diary. Then I started taking writing classes and crafting my writing. But it still didn’t satisfy a publisher enough to want to publish my story. I now know that I needed to develop my “self” and thereby develop my voice. However, all along the way, I kept believing in my dream of publishing my memoir. This dream is about to be realized — a publisher has accepted my memoir! Needless to say, I am elated!
My memoir entitled Why I Left the Amish is about growing up Amish, leaving the fold, and the life I have chosen. It begins with an unanticipated break in my studies during my first semester at Smith College in 2004 when my father died and I traveled back to Ohio to my childhood community for his funeral. Finding myself back in the horse and buggy world I had left twenty-four years before, and then suddenly back on Smith College campus in a matter of forty-eight hours left me reflecting on the two separate and distinct lives I have lived.
Many childhood memories were triggered before and during the funeral — memories of my father’s mental illness, my older brother’s brutality, and my mother’s lack of protection, which often left me without advocates. Besides my struggles within my specific family, I also battled my feeling of being an outsider within the only community I knew. No matter how hard I tried, I could not quiet the fundamental questions that boiled up from within any more than I could fully conform to the ways of the church, even after becoming a baptized member of the church. My desire for more formal education was always there, even though I knew that would be impossible if I stayed in the community.
The last part of Why I Left the Amish chronicles my journey out of my home community in Ohio, to Vermont where I knew no one.
My book could not have been written in the earlier years after exiting the community. There has been a long inner struggle of coming to terms with my Amish past. Why I Left the Amish is a personal story rather than an exploration of Amish culture. But in the telling, many misconceptions and myths about the Amish are revealed.
In offering an authentic rendition of what it was like to be born and raised as a young woman in an Amish community, I hope to appeal to scholars of Amish culture who are interested in measuring long-held beliefs against practical realities, to those in mainstream culture who simply yearn to get a glimpse behind the opaque curtain that separates the Amish from the outside world, and to those within the Amish culture who long to know what the life of a former community member is like in the outside world. My aim is to tell a nuanced and balanced story — one that neither romanticizes nor demonizes the culture in which I grew up, and one that conveys the gratitude I have for the freedom I enjoy in my present life.