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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19 thoughts on “To Sacrifice or not to Sacrifice”

  1. Unbelieveable!! We have no church.we can listen by calling in. Stores: no more then 40people and only 1 of a family. I our supermarket is an one way made. Everyone keeps distance here, and stays home as much as possible. People place ads to help elderly people to pick up groceries or what ever they need.
    So far as I know, we have 25 cases in the south of our province.
    It can be awful for people all alone, but we can send messages.
    Our senior home from our churches are since the first week in lockdown.
    Stay safe together with David!!
    Hugs from Canada.

    1. Wilma, it’s great to hear from you in Canada. I know your country did a better job of slowing the spread than the U.S. did. It also sounds like people are helping one another.

      Our senior center is also in lockdown, but I believe they now have one known case there. I cannot imagine they will contain it.

      I hope you also stay safe, Wilma. Thank you for writing.

  2. The situations that grieve me the most are the deaths occurring, not only from the virus, but those for other reasons–natural, accidents, etc–and the survivors cannot experience the comfort that a visitation, a funeral brings. A private graveside service is about all that can be done . We all need to remember to make more phone calls, write more notes, pray more for the survivors during this time.

    1. Carol, I agree. The isolation for those dying and their loved ones has to be heartbreaking. I also agree that I need to write more cards and pray for those who are ill and those who are caring for them. I am good about calling people, both for my job and for staying in touch with friends.

      It is great hearing from you, Carol, and I hope you stay safe.

  3. I am in Ohio and we have been on shelter at home since mid March. Sometimes the thought of having to continue shelter at home for another month or more can make me feel quite antsy and somewhat claustrophobic. But then I look at Facebook posts from doctors, nurses and first responders and they talk about the conditions that are working in, some with not enough personal protection equipment to feel safe at their jobs. Some break down emotionally from the loss of life of their patients. I have also looked at Dr. Amy Acton’s Fan page and it breaks my heart to read the many posts from people asking for prayer for their sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, etc. all working in the medical field helping COVID 19 patients at various hospitals. I do not want to be a link in the chain of unknowingly spreading the virus, but I do want to make sure my 88 year old neighbor is doing ok, and I can still keep in touch with my friends and family through phone calls and cards. It will be great here in Ohio when we have some consistently nice weather and I can go outside more.

    1. Jewels, I remember how long it takes for spring to arrive in Ohio. You are reminding me of another blessing we have here in Virginia… that of having spring weather. We’ve had some cold nights the last week, but during the day it’s been sunny and mild compared to Ohio. I hope you soon have warmer weather.

  4. Denise Ann Shea

    I can work from home, but I do miss seeing my coworkers in person. Each town (as well as the state) has enacted guidelines for wearing masks and gloves in stores and other public places, limiting people in grocery stores, and closing most non-essential businesses. I worry about the people working in grocery stores who, up to very recently, had no PPE to protect them. One of the managers I work with said early on that this is a marathon, not a sprint. I hope people don’t get too anxious about getting things back to ‘normal’ too soon. I’m afraid we’ve become a society that wants instant solutions Getting the virus contained/more people tested/effective treatments put in place will take time and patience.

    1. Denise, I know. I have to admit the idea of staying in isolation for possibly a year is enough to make me feel antsy and anxious. And yet it might take longer than that for a vaccine to be developed.

      I wonder how this is going to change us? Will it make us neurotic, or will we try to go back to the way things were? I do not think the latter can happen, and I think the former may well be one of the outcomes of this pandemic. It’s humbling really… all the king’s horses and all the king’s men and all our modern medicine could not stop this virus from spreading.

      Take good care, Denise.

  5. When this ends – and it WILL end- I hope that we won’t go back to “normal”. A new norm is called for, and we, as a culture, will be happier and better for it. It will call for ‘mindfulness’ to a degree that we haven’t had to live in for a long while.

    But. I am quite sure that people felt the same way about the Great Depression. And probably after the Civil War. So I don’t have a whole lot of hope for it.

    Frankly, I don’t actually expect to survive this pestilence myself. I may be wrong, and I hope that I am, but it appears that it will be around us a long time and probably will return in wave after wave. At my age, even though I am healthy today, the odds are against my survival. That is OK- as I have often said: I don’t want to die tomorrow- but I don’t know a better day. All living things will always resist.

    What do I miss most? In my case, probably music. For 30 some years I have met with friends on a weekly basis when we play instruments and sing for 4plus hours. For the last 25 years it has been in my own home. Several of us (not me!) are good enough to be professional and it is always fun and always satisfying. It is good to say goodbye with a song in one’s heart and mind.

    1. Elva, I hardly know what to say. I hope you are mistaken about not surviving this. I realize we all must die, but from what I understand, this is a difficult way to go. You still seem to have a lot of vitality and mental acuity. I hope it’s not yet time for you to exit this world.

      Wow, that’s incredible that you have been so committed to music for so long. This has to be a hard thing for you to sacrifice. You have probably told me this already… which instrument(s) do you play? Do you find this a time that you are able to write and play songs, or are you like me in feeling like my creativity has dried up?

      Love your last line.

      It is always a pleasure to hear from you, Elva. Take good care.

  6. Elva Bontrager

    Thanks for your response, Saloma. I too don’t want to go ‘that’ way- and of course, I may not. I do think it’s a pity that John Prine, the American singer songwriter, went that way after all the health issues he had met and conquered over the years. It is an ugly death, one I would not choose.

    I play guitar and mandolin. Over the years I have been in several bands, something I enjoyed a lot. Problem was that I really don’t like to ‘perform’, to be on stage, though I am beyond grateful that others like to. My thing is jamming.Love it, love the mix of styles and genre and strengths. The group I have been in the last some years is pretty small, about a dozen people. Just about the perfect size jam. For a couple of years the group got so popular that we had up to about 30 people, and no one was happy about that. But then I moved from that large house and the group went down to a workable size.

    You’d think I would be writing songs now, wouldn’t you?! Lots of time. I have a couple simmering in my head but I haven’t put anything on paper so far. I’ve written maybe 20 something in my life, a few of which we sing.

    sheesh. Sorry. But YOU started it. lol

    Stay safe and happy.

    1. Elva, it sounds like you had created exactly the life you wanted to live. That is the tragedy of this virus… it has put a stop to many people realizing their dreams. However, it is also making us stop and think about what is really important to us. The trouble for me, and it sounds like for you as well is that what we value most we cannot have. What I’ve realized is how important it is for me to be able to get together face to face with friends and socially in general. Being the extrovert that I am, it is hard for me to be so isolated. But then again, it is a privilege to have a home to stay in that provides us safety, shelter, and we have food to eat. Yet I’ve never had cabin fever so intensely… not even in those long dark Vermont winters I remember whilst raising our sons.

      You are not the only one who cannot conjure up the creativity to do what you normally do. I cannot crochet, read, or write, and I’ve heard of others whose creativity is not engaged right now.

      Thank you for describing your life, Elva. I hope we get through this together.

  7. I hope that the Amish community will take all the information out there seriously and go with each states guide lines for dealing with covid-19. Thank you for sharing with us how the Amish celebrate communion and foot washing. Though I understand how important all of this is to them I truly think God would understand if they forgo these types of services until things get better. Sadly maybe only a massive surge in cases among the Amish may be the only way they take heed. This time of being separated from our friends and our loved ones is hard and I pray it will soon end though its looking more and more doubtful. I talked about how we in my home are handling this new normal in your April 5th blog so I wont bore everyone with all of that again. I will say that I am so grateful to have my husband with me and my heart goes out to those who are doing this alone.

    1. Pamela, I think some of the Amish are taking heed of the regulations, and others are just not. I’ve seen numerous reports from my home community that the Amish there are just not taking it seriously. Large groups keep gathering.

      I’m so glad you are finding a new normal. How I miss getting together with others! We have a new routine also, but I’m not liking that very much.

      I am with you… I don’t know how I would be handling this without David in my life. I’m so grateful I don’t need to find out.

      Thank you for your comments, Pamela.

  8. There is an Amish market near us, and I’ve spoken to some of the people who work there. They are not having church services, and are wearing – and selling – masks. At least some folks are ‘getting the message’.

    About communion; I know most (all?) denominations use a common cup, but they are silver and the server wipes the cup and turns it a bit after each person, so there is less likelihood of ‘contamination’. Alcohol kills germs, we don’t worry about it too much. (I’m an Episcopalian, but familiar with Lutheran customs.) Is this very basic practice not used in the Amish church?

    1. Hello Dani. I’m so glad to know there are Amish folks taking the distancing guidelines seriously.

      No silver cups in my home community, and no wiping, either. It was the same kind of enamel cup that we used to drink water at our hand pump.

      That is a good point about alcohol killing germs, but I sure wouldn’t want to count on that.

      Thank you for joining this conversation.

  9. tomthebackroadstraveller

    …Saloma, like you I have been staying at home for what appears to be an eternity. My “roommate” of 54 years and I are still doing find. I haven’t seen my Amish friends since December, but last week with my mask on I stopped by to talked to a friend who I first met in Conewango 25 years ago. We stood about 20 feet apart in the drive and spoke. In this newer community which is a bit more progressive than Conewango they are having their biweekly church services, the spring communion service wasn’t discussed. In our conversation I felt as a friend that I needed to say how serious a problem the Covid-19 is, perhaps it may help, but it made me feel better. Take care so that we can see brighter days in the future!

  10. Sarah Schwartz

    I have been watching the Holmes Co numbers which seem to remain low. Also have wondered their understanding of the infection given that people with a lot more education do not get tit….Hope you are well this is the last blog post I see-May have to do with my change in email address A friend wants to visit some Amish shops in central Illinois.Hing it’s safe.

  11. Hello, Saloma.
    Interesting posts.
    I have a couple of questions if you have time to answer:
    Who married the bishop, especially if it is a remarriage.
    Would they have the traditional 3-hour wedding service?
    Weddings are typically held on Tuesday or Thursday in the fall, do the children not attend school in order to go to the wedding?
    Thank you

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