Saloma Miller Furlong
Author and Speaker

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To Sacrifice or not to Sacrifice

In my last post, I wrote about the attitude in some Amish communities regarding the refusal to change their traditions in response to the current pandemic. A few days later, several friends brought to my attention the article that appeared in the New York Times about the Amish in Holmes County Ohio rising to the challenge of sewing masks and gowns for medical personnel. I know John Miller. He is a sharp businessman and he knows the Amish in the area well… he was born and raised among them. So was his wife, Susan, is also highly intelligent. That they pulled together with those Amish who need work does not surprise me. Even though the Amish are often viewed as slow to change, with the help of John and Susan, these Amish families made a faster change than most workers in this country. This is nothing short of industrious.

Walnut Creek, Ohio Photo by Saloma Furlong

Therein lies the paradox. The same families who are rising to the challenge of churning out PPE for hospitals could very well be the same families who despite the spread of the coronavirus still get together for large weddings, funerals, or communion services. All of these are potential gatherings for spreading the virus. However, the ones I am most concerned about at this time of the year are the communion services.

More than a hundred members gather in one home where they sit close together on backless benches for the day-long service. In late afternoon, after hours of preaching, communion is served. Wine and bread are brought in by the deacon and placed on a table in front of the presiding bishop, who pours out wine in a communal cup and blesses it. Before he passes the cup, he admonishes members that they should not be concerned who drank from the cup before them. This is where I used to think, “Easy for you to say, you get the first drink. And I get nearly the last.” These thoughts were chased by the next when I admonished myself for having such thoughts.

The bishop then takes the first sip of wine, passes it on to the two other preachers and the deacon. Then he takes the cup to the eldest man in the church and serves him. After sipping from the cup, the man genuflects and sits down. The bishop serves the next eldest and so on, replenishing the cup when needed, until all the men have had their sip of wine. Then the bishop serves the eldest woman in the church, all the way down to the youngest women members, using the same cup.

The bread is then cut into large slices, and the bishop breaks off bite-sized pieces and serves it to members. They each genuflect and sit down.

The very last ritual is that of foot-washing. The men go into one room, the women into another. In each room, there are two sets of basins with warm water and a towel. The four eldest women go first in taking off their shoes and knee socks to pair up by the two basins. The pairs wash one another’s feet and dry them on the towel, then shake hands and exchange the “holy kiss” by kissing each other on the cheeks. This is repeated until all the women have had their feet washed. After putting their socks and shoes back on, they drop money into the sack for what they call “poor money” on their way out of the room. Then everyone leaves the service in solemn silence and returns home.

I know that some Amish bishops have postponed communion services, but not all Amish bishops will, especially not in the most traditional communities. Normally the only reason for suspending communion is if there is a disagreement of a church matter in that particular district. It is impossible for law enforcement to prevent the Amish from holding their communion services. So it seems that no one can stop them.

I know that the prevailing beliefs among many of the Amish are that our lives (and our deaths) are in God’s hands. When our time is up, we die, according to their way of thinking. What I never learned growing up is the idea that sometimes humans can help bring about God’s will. I believe we are capable of working in accord with God’s will to determine the direction of our lives. With that belief comes a certain responsibility to care about the health and well-being of not only one’s self, but others’ as well.

We know little about the characteristics of the virus that is killing so many. One of the scariest aspects of what we do know is that a person with the virus can be asymptomatic and still infect others. This is one of the reasons why I feel it is irresponsible to refuse to isolate or refrain from gathering in large crowds — what if I unknowingly became the cause of others’ illness and death.

Those Amish who still insist on getting together are not alone in refusing to isolate. Every two weeks when David and I venture out to buy groceries, there are more people out and about than what is considered “essential.” As a result, the number of known coronavirus cases is rising rapidly in our area.

South Dakota governor Kristi Noem has refused to issue a stay-at-home order. That state now has one of the largest coronavirus outbreaks in the country at a Smithfield pork processing plant.

In Sweden people are still free to go about their lives, even as the coronavirus spreads. Their death count is at 1,033 according to the Worldometer Coronavirus page. By comparison, Norway’s death count is at 139 and Denmark’s is at 299. Sweden has 114 new deaths so far today, Norway has 5 and Denmark has 14. It is clear that the “open” policy is killing more people. It seems to me the Swedish policy is a dangerous one. Maybe the Swedish people who survive this illness will be more immune than the rest of the world’s population, but it will have cost numerous lives that could have been spared had everyone been willing to sacrifice their freedom in the short term.

After leaving the house at 6:30 this morning to go to the grocery store for our two-week supply of food, I decided cabin fever is a small price to pay for safety for ourselves and those around us. It looks like we’re in it for the long haul, and so we dig deeper into our inner resources for coping strategies. I can work from home. Just as I did in my Amish days, I have plenty of games on my closet shelf. I can crochet rugs. I can read. I can write. I can take walks. I can ride my bike. I can help David with gardening. I just cannot get together with others, and do I ever miss that! There are times when I just want to sit down and cry when I remember the good times of getting together with friends and family and know that I will likely have to refrain from such visits for months to come. But then I remind myself I still have David. I am forever grateful that I do.

When faced with the question of whether to sacrifice or not in the face of this pandemic, I choose to sacrifice. I can’t bear the thought of becoming a link in the chain for this deadly virus to continue wreaking havoc in our community, our state, our country, and our world. I will do my small part in depriving those little viruses of hosts to glom onto.

You know what I miss most in my new existence. What do you miss the most? Or conversely, what do you not miss about the life you had two months ago?

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