‘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.

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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…”

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30 thoughts on “‘Among’ the Amish but not ‘of’ Them”

  1. Saloma, Oh, wow, do I ever understand it when you say: “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.”

    To my mind it was almost worse because I just KNEW that my Mom didn’t believe everything she was teaching us (Years later, she said that she had no idea that we could tell); when I railed at the situation, saying among other things that the “reason they believed the Bible was because that’s what they grew up with, and that the reason they believed the Bible was true was because that’s what the Bible claimed.

    Oooh. I suspect that I was not easy to raise.

    1. Hehehe, Elva, you were not the only difficult Amish girl to raise. Mem hated when I tried reasoning with her the way you describe. I soon learned not to… unless the words tumbled out of my mouth despite trying to keep them from doing so. Then I was IN trouble!

      Interesting that your mother had no idea she let the cat out of the bag… children pick up on such things, I’ve learned as a daughter and as a parent.

      Thanks, as always, for your comments.

  2. Saloma,
    I suspect you are no different than most of us. I too will always miss my childhood home in Barre and no matter where I end up and no matter how much I like where I live it will never be “home”. You also talk about David desiring the same thing. I also suspect that all couples that did not grow up together will have this same struggle sooner or later. For me the older I get the more I want to be near my roots even though I doubt I will ever go back to Vermont. However being part of good faithful church is the most important thing to me now. I also believe strongly in the providence of God. Where ever you end up I am hoping we can visit your bed and breakfast someday. How far is Howard county Ohio from Cedarville? I have 2 grandsons in college there. Oh I love your idea of spending extended time in both places to see which one you like better.

    1. Michele, thanks for your thoughts. You are probably right, that if it is a near universal longing for each of us to circle back to our roots, any couple having grown up in different areas will eventually have this conundrum.

      Holmes County, Ohio, is just under two hours from Cedarville, according to Google maps. David and I would LOVE to host you at our B&B!

      I like that idea, too, of spending time in each place, but it all depends whether we’ll be traveling lightly.

      Have a wonderful week, Michele.

      1. I did not know you had a bnb! My sister just moved to Ceaderville…I may look it up when we come to visit!

        God bless you as you continue to grow, heal, and help others facing similar situations among your people.

  3. What a decision! Personally, I like the Midwest but I suspect it’s because I grew up here. It’s the people and their ways that make me feel at home. I’ve lived down south and east but there’s always a missing connection. I’ve been traveling to Wisconsin a bit more than usual this summer with my boys. Wow! The woods! Glory. And many more hills than where I’m at now. The beautiful hills.
    If I needed to make a decision as to where to live I would first pray. Then I would listen to what my heart says.

    1. Fran, thank you for your thoughts. Yes, I have prayed many prayers for clarity to know what direction is right for us.

      I am a Midwesterner transplanted to New England. Having a foot in both of these places, I’m feeling a bit spread out… lol

      Wishing you a great week, Fran. It is great to see you here.

  4. Well said, Saloma! My feelings exactly. As the saying goes, “a good place to be from, with (that particular place) in the rear view mirror”. So many things from that heritage I value, but do not desire to go back to. God bless your decision.

  5. The one thing and about the only thing I miss moving from Missouri to Arkansas is seeing and talking with the Amish and mennonite who lived around us. While there is a beachy amish church and mennonite church in two other towns around us, I seldom see any of them.

    1. Michelle, that is interesting that you don’t see much of the Amish and Mennonites who live around you in Arkansas. I have Mennonite cousins in Missouri (Seymour).

      Have a blessed week.

  6. I can identify with your desire to be among your people. I guess that is the reason I live among the Amish in Sarasota Florida. In a way I am still Amish deep in my heart because it was my culture. It is where I was born and raised. I greatly appreciate my heritage, but it didn’t allow me to be who I am. I didn’t fit in.

    1. Katie, I am always amazed at how you can saw in a few words what it takes me a whole blog post to say. I know that feeling of not fitting in.

      Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

  7. Just a thought: A traveling friend of mine says that the only bad part of loving so many people and places is that one is always just a little homesick.

  8. Saloma,I do not envy your struggle, though I can understand it to a certain degree, never being Amish I cant fully understand it. However I can understand that desire to go back to what we knew first. Even with all the dysfunction that took place in my growing up years I find myself remembering more and more of the good stuff and less of the bad. Even in my dreams my “home” is where I grew up not were I have lived for thirty-one years and where I raised my children. I often wake from those dreams with a deep feeling of homesickness. We here in the south hills of Pittsburgh are born, live and die here, not sure why that is, but its a well known fact. My great grandfather who came from Germany made his home not five miles from here. I only live about ten miles from where I grew up. All of my extended family live in the area. This is my struggle in wanting to live elsewhere but unable to break the tie to all I have ever known. In the end I know you will end up right where you belong.I think most of us do. Just search your heart, the answer is there. Confession, selfishly I’m hoping you pick Ohio!!!!!!

    1. Pamela, it sounds like you have this struggle in the reverse… wanting to move elsewhere and not being able to break the ties. I broke those ties many years ago, but now I feel the need to reconcile that life with my chosen life. Whether I will be able to, I don’t know.

      David and I are leaning more towards Ohio than Maine, mostly because of those ties. He has them too because he has a sister and extended family in Ohio.

      I have no doubt our paths will cross someday… somewhere.

      Thanks for your comments and insights… always.

    1. Linda, by your name, I am guessing you are either Amish or formerly Amish. Getting to know others who are on a similar life journey, is one of the reasons for the pull to Ohio.

      I hope I will meet you. You have the name I chose when I left the first time.

      1. My parents left the Amish in my early teens.Im Mennonite now and after 12 yrs of living in a town , My husband and I moved our family back into Amish Country, Im loving the peace and quiet.

        Best wishes to you as you make the transition back to Holmes.

        1. Linda, thanks for sharing of your decisions. I actually grew up in Geauga, and I know I don’t want to go back there. Holmes is close enough to visit Geauga, yet far enough for me to have space.

          I hope I get to meet you sometime.

  9. Hi Saloma, I appreciate you sharing your life with us. I find your life more interesting than a novel. I also appreciate you sharing Mem’s letter. I can see where you two would clash and it must have been hard to have a Mom that didn’t understand you. I feel thankful that you have a good sense of self and won’t let anything rob you of that.

    Paul and I closed on the house in Ethridge, TN which I’ve read has the largest Amish community in the south. There is more horse and buggy traffic on our road than cars :-)

    By the way, did you ever learn why the Amish can’t have Christmas trees? I’d like to know.

    1. Denise, what kind words! I appreciate them very much.

      Yes, Mem and I certainly did clash a lot. I often felt misunderstood by her, and I’m sure I also misunderstood her. I suspect I was not an easy daughter for her to raise, considering I did have a sense of self. That was considered a child “having a will” and she saw her job as my Amish mother to break me of having one.

      I hope to one day visit the Amish of Ethridge. I wish you well in your new home.

      As for the Amish and Christmas trees. The only real explanation I ever heard was that they were considered too fancy. Given the emphasis on simplicity and humility, it’s probably the idea that people would get carried away with decorations that got them shunned from Amish life.

      Thank you very much for your comments, Denise.

  10. In my own way, I know what it means to live “among but not of them”. The life I live now is a far departure of the ideology and environment I was raised. My parents, my only sibling, most of the relatives, and the circle of family friends have chosen to maintain their ideology.

    Then there’s me…

    I was drawn to Saloma’s stories because I can relate.

    There’s a line from the film “A River Runs Through It” which explains it well. “You can love completely without complete understanding.” It’s probably how they think of me as much as I think of them.

    1. Jean, thank you for letting me know how you relate to my stories. You are right, there are many ways to understand how it feels not to belong to a particular community or family.

      I haven’t seen that film in ages. I should see it again. I love that quote.

      Thank you for your comments and insights.

  11. Saloma,

    While you write about specific Amish traditions, the way you talk about them make your stories have universal themes. We call all relate to you on some level.

    The other day I bought a sticky roll and thought of Anna. I’m sure hers is superior.

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