Many people have asked me this question since the PBS documentary "The Amish: Shunned" premiered on February 4. The answer is, "I wish I knew."
The footage of Anna returning to her community was taken on January 29, 2013 for the documentary. The film has been taken off the American Experience website, but you can still see the first chapter for free, and you can buy the DVD of the film. There is also a short video of Anna, though it does not include the ending when she returns that I will share here. And for those who would like a recipe for the sticky buns Anna and I are making in the video, you can find it on the American Experience website also.
Anna had lived with David and me for six months. We became her surrogate parents, and helped her establish a bakery and basket-weaving business and selling her wares out of our house.
Several months after Anna moved in with us, it was hard for me when Anna said she wanted to return, but I also knew it was a decision only she could make. I grappled with whether we should make it easy for her by driving her back as opposed to letting her find her own way back. I asked her one day, whether she would still return if we did not take her back. She said she would probably ask her parents to come and get her. There was my answer. So the only kind thing to do was to drive her back.
One day, about a week before Anna's return, I realized that she would have to shun me when she returned. When I told her that, she was stunned. She said, "I never thought about that." I wondered out loud whether Anna would be allowed to write to me.
Within weeks after Anna returned, it became clear that Anna was no longer allowed to write to me. I told that story here.
From various sources, I understand that Anna was shunned by her community for five and a half months before she was accepted back into the church. And in her community, they practice strict shunning. That means that she had to eat separately from her family, even though she was living with them. They could not take anything out of her hand, so she had to place things on a table or chair, and then they would pick it up.
After her shunning period was over, she was accepted back into the church. Then in September, she took on a teaching job in an Amish school, which took her out of her parents' home, so she could live near the school where she is teaching.
Anna's journey is so parallel to my own. I was offered a teaching job when I returned, and it also allowed me to live outside my parents' home. When I was back for a year, it was probably the time I was most intensely torn between my two worlds. I was trying so hard to "make myself Amish" and yet I had experienced my first taste of freedom and I could not tamp down the desire to expereince that freedom again.
I have a strong hunch that Anna is experiencing this same conflict. I've had people ask me what I think are the odds of her leaving again. I usually guess 50/50 chance that she will stay in the community versus leaving again. And if you asked Anna today, she would likely say she wants to stay. Just as I would have a year after my return.
I know that even though there are many similarities between Anna's journey and my own, there are also key differences. I was much more outgoing and adventurous for one thing. And I loved making my own choices, rather than relying on someone else to make those choices for me. Anna was never comfortable making her own choices and she was not that outgoing. But something happened when Anna was living here that she cannot reverse, and that may be her downfall in staying in the community.
Amish people are never taught to self-reflect. In fact, the lifestyle almost requires that you live your life unself-consciously, with many things living in your subconscious as opposed to bringing it into consciousness.
I have always believed that the Adam and Eve story is metaphor for the process of humans becoming self-aware. Eating of the apple of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil is like us becoming self-aware and acquiring a conscience to help us know right from wrong.
I will never forget the day Anna ate the apple. One day she was not self-aware and the next day she was. Here is how it happened:
Callie Wiser was interviewing Anna in our living room. She asked Anna what she thinks about when she is up early, kneading bread by herself. There was silence. Then Anna asked, "What do you mean?" Callie rephrased the question, but Anna could still not answer it.
After Callie and her crew had left, Anna asked me, "What do you think Callie meant by that question of what I think about when I'm making bread?"
I explained to Anna that when we are doing things that we don't have to think about, like kneading bread, we sometimes let our minds wander and we think about other things.
Anna had a blank stare that David and I dubbed "dead eyes." That's what I got in return when I tried to explain what Callie meant. I didn't think she understood.
The next morning, Anna was up at the crack of dawn, kneading bread. When I got up, she asked me, "You know what I was thinking about when I was kneading bread this morning? I was thinking about that question Callie asked me yesterday."
I said, "Ah-ha! You caught yourself thinking! That is called self-awareness." A pleased grin spread across her face.
The difference between Anna before that and after that expereince was a marked one. She became increasingly more aware of her "self" after that.
And that is where Anna will have a problem fitting herself back into her community for life. Her community — even more than the community I came from — live on an unself-conscious level. I don't think Anna can turn her self-awareness off at will, any more than Adam and Eve could put the apple back on the tree.
That is why I give Anna a 50/50 chance of leaving again, as opposed to 30/70. I think this is huge.
Then again, it will also depend on whether Anna is asked for dates or not. She very much would like to find a marriage partner. When I returned, most young men did not ask me for dates. The word going around was, "She left once, she could leave again." It took me a while to say, "Hey, they're right!"
If Anna finds a marriage partner, she is more apt to stay. When I was 23 years old, I would not have considered marrying a widower in the community. If Anna has that chance, I think she will likely take it.
So, now you know about as much as I do about Anna's situation. I have no doubt that she is in a hard place between her two worlds. Please hold her in your thoughts and prayers.
Knowing what you know, what is your guess? What are the chances of her leaving again?