My friend, Shirley Hershey Showalter, has done a thought-provoking blog post called Mennonite Bonnet and Covering Stories in preparation of the joint talk she and I have scheduled for next Tuesday, February 25, in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania. This talk is sponsored by the Milanof-Schock Library and will be held at the Mount Joy Mennonite Church. We are going to be speaking about what wearing head coverings meant to us when we were growing up.
I believe a head covering is a symbol and I don’t think we can analyze it separately from what it symbolizes… usually belonging and community. In a culture (mainstream America) in which hyperindividualism is the religion of the day, the meaning of the symbol of the covering is lost. There are basically two kinds of cultures — those based on the individual and those based on community. We can only view this question through the lens of the culture we are part of. Let’s face it… we have all coveted the sense of community that the Amish have. And yet we don’t want to make the sacrifices that it would take to become part of that community. There are days when I would gladly don my Amish covering to feel a part of an Amish quilting or community event. But being Amish and wearing the covering to show that you are, is not a part-time thing. The Amish preachers used to say, “You are either Amish or not… there is no in-between.” They have a point… you can have the freedom of an individual, or else you have to sacrifice your personal freedom to be part of the community. That usually involves some kind of symbol to show that you are part of the group.
Of course, the "kopp" as we called it, is more than just a symbol of belonging. It also carries spiritual meaning. In the PBS film, "The Amish: Shunned," that aired on American Experience two weeks ago, Naomi Kramer, one of the seven people whose stories this film followed, had something really interesting to say about coverings. She reminded me of how I used to feel in the early years after I left the Amish. That was more than thirty years ago, but I was reminded of that feeling when I heard Naomi articulate her feelings:
A side note here: for anyone who has not seen the film and you want to stream it live from the American Experience website, you can do that for free…. until March 4, and then it goes away. I have heard from so many people who echo my sentiments about the film: that it is extremely well done. The cinematography is breathtaking. So you'll not want to miss it!
Before my talk with Shirley Showalter in Mt. Joy on Tuesday next week, David and I have three other talks scheduled. Tomorrow evening at 6 PM, we'll be speaking at the North Adams Public Library in Massachusetts. On Saturday, we'll be speaking at the Monmouth County Library Headquarters in New Jersey at 2 PM. And then on Sunday, we'll be speaking at the Springfield Public Library, also in New Jersey. For a full schedule of events, you can visit the events page of my website. I hope to see my loyal readers at one or more of these events.
Thank you, as always, for your readership. If you have any comments or questions about wearing coverings and bonnets, please feel free to share them. And for those who are interested in knowing when we'd wear coverings and when we'd wear both the coverings and the bonnets, there is an explanation on the Amish Customs page of my website, with my niece, Leanna, modeling them.