First there is a letter from someone who had left the Amish and is back in his community to someone who has left the Amish. He is asking for guidance about whether he should stay or leave. He wrote that he came back to talk to his parents and then saw how people “were taking it” that he was gone, and he stayed. He wrote, “If I would have gone with my heart, I’d still be gone.”
Next is a letter “We are putting you in the ban” written by a bishop to a young woman who has just left his congregation.
That is followed by a son’s letter to his parents after he left. The ending of the letter is especially poignant, when he tells them he loves them very much and will miss them very much. His letter ends with, “My family means so much to me and always will.” — Your loving son, Samuel.
Next comes a letter “To our dearest lost brother.” A family writing to a brother who left.
Then comes a classic letter to someone who has left and it includes these lines: “Oh, if younce could only break loose of Satan and come home. Deep in your hearts you are not truly happy, and you never can be as long as you stay out in the world.”
There is another letter from a bishop to one of his parishioners who left. It starts out with, “I heard you were in a bad car wreck, one of the guys got killed. As the tree falls so will he lay. Until Judgment Day. I hear he was only 18? I don’t know him. But unless his parents didn’t try to teach him right from wrong, the whole load will lie on him?”
There is a letter from a daughter to her parents who left. Apparently the mother had asked to come back and see her children and grandchildren. The answer was, “No! You are not welcome to come in as you are now. […] Please don’t come in such a way.”
These letters are such a poignant reminder of how difficult it was to receive a letter from the community after leaving the Amish. I have them stashed in my closet. Though I haven’t read them in a while, I remember phrases. “I felt so sorry for your mother. I noticed her ‘halstuch’ (cape) was all wet with her tears at church on Sunday.” And in another one, “Are you really prepared to follow your flesh now and burn in Hell forever and ever?” And yet another, “Oh, if only you knew how hard this is on your mother, you would come back. And what about the promises you made to the church?”
Thankfully, after all these years of being away, my memory has faded about how intense it was to make the break. I grappled with the guilt for years. Therapy was my life raft. And slowly, with time, the Amish lost their hold on me and I came around to having dreams about where I wanted to go with my life and then following the direction of those dreams.
Yet it only takes a trip down memory lane with glimpses of others’ struggles to remind me from whence I have come and how grateful I am for what my life is today. Now I only wish I could lighten the load for those who are still in the struggle. Guilt can weigh so heavily on people’s shoulders when it’s used as a weapon.