A little while ago, I received a rare treat — a four-page handwritten letter. It came from Ruth, an elementary school pal. We first attended the same school when we were third graders, the first year an Amish school was built near us. She came from one local public school and I came from another. Her second-grade teacher had taught students how to go from “printing” to “writing.” My second-grade teacher forbade her students from writing so when I entered third grade, I didn’t know how to write all the letters in cursive. I often poked Ruth, who sat in the desk in front of mine and printed the letter I wanted to learn. She wrote the letter slowly so I could see how it was formed. She was a wonderful teacher. It was the beginning of our friendship.
Ruth and I competed for the second best grades in our class. (There was a genius in our grade who earned straight As). Ruth’s handwriting was the best in the school. We were both outside the click of “popular girls” but we spent a lot of time at one another’s homes, sometimes for sleepovers.
After we both graduated from eighth grade, her family moved from Ohio to Michigan, and we didn’t see much of one another. I traveled to her wedding some years later, and I visited her twice after she was married. By the second visit she had three children. Then I left the community and she went on to have a total of eleven children.
We’ve stayed in touch infrequently, but when we do, we always remember our time in Burton, Ohio when we were neighborhood pals. In this latest letter, in her always beautiful handwriting, she wrote about a chartered bus trip with relatives to our area (60 in all). They visited places of significance: where each of her parents were born, where they grew up and went to school, and where relatives were buried. Then they had a huge get-together at a cousin’s home. Ruth wrote that she has 24 grandchildren. She was planning to bake 40 loaves of bread for her granddaughter’s wedding.
These are the things I sacrificed when I left. There is a sense of belonging that comes with folks knowing one another from the cradle to the grave. Most couples can count on having multiple grandchildren by the time they are in their fifties. Of course I long to have grandchildren, and how glad I would be to bake bread for a granddaughter’s wedding.
On the other hand, I was able to fulfill my lifelong dream of earning a college education when I was in my forties. With Ruth’s significant intellect, she would have thrived in a learning environment. But this avenue was not open to her.
I also value freedom of thought. In such a tightly-knit community, it is hard to think differently from the group. I often felt like I was the only one with my thoughts and perceptions, which left me feeling lonely within the group.
An example is that Ruth mentioned she had not attended church the day she was writing the letter because she had lost her sense of taste and smell, and she had a fever. She asked, “Does that sound like the virus?” and drew a sad face.
From what I know, most Amish communities seem to be allowing the coronavirus free rein. The prevailing attitude is that they put their trust in God, not in masks. I understand that some Amish women are becoming belligerent by resisting the mask rule in their local libraries. The police have become involved in a few instances.
If I were living in an Amish community, how could I stay virus free? More importantly, how could I keep from spreading it? One can only skip church so many times before it will prompt a visit from the preachers. In such an environment, there is little to no defense against herd mentality.
Along with the yearning for what I have lost comes gratitude for what I have gained. I am living with the love of my life who is willing to treat me as his equal. He does not have preachers telling him it is his responsibility to be the “head of the home” or that it is the wife’s duty to submit to his will. Instead, we are part of a church community in which women are partners in leadership.
After much reflection about the vastly different lives Ruth and I lead, I have concluded that she probably made the best choice for her life, even though she sacrificed certain freedoms. And I made the best choice for my life, even though I sacrificed the Amish sense of belonging and being a grandmother to 24 children at age 63.
I was taught to believe that God has planned out our whole lives before we are born into this world. This concept of destiny fits with the deep Amish traditions that carry a person through life without need for self-reflection or questions about whys and wherefores. I find it more empowering to believe our life path can be determined by our choices. But then I wonder if there is a Divine Plan for those of us who choose to live the examined life. Perhaps Ruth staying in the Amish culture into which she was born and me leaving and choosing my life path are both part of this Divine Plan. Maybe without knowing it, we are following the path that was already marked out for us.
10 thoughts on “Reflections on Times Past and Present”
It’s so interesting to look back over the years and see where we have been and how the choices we made have brought us to where we are today. I truly believe that both you and Ruth chose the paths meant for each of you.
I’m happy are enjoying the freedom you have found.
Thank you, Joan. That is so true that all the decisions we’ve made in the past have led us to where we are today.
I hope you’re doing well on the other side of the mountains. Take care.
Saloma, this may be an impossible question and please feel free to not answer. Your story about your childhood friend who lives in an Amish community made me think of this. If you had had a loving and supportive (within the Amish culture) family, would it have been less likely that you would want to leave? It seems to me that the abuse you endured in your family pushed you to needing to leave.
I have often been asked this question at book talks, and I always say it is so hard to tell. Even if I had grown up in a loving family, and married a loving husband, I would have been pining for more education my whole life long. I don’t think that would have gone away.
So my answer is that I would have been less likely to leave, but whether I would have ultimately left, I don’t know. And if I had stayed, I don’t know if I could have lived a fulfilling life within the community. It goes back to wondering what my life would be like if I had taken that path instead of the path I took.
Thanks for your question, Johanna. I hope you’re doing well.
I lost count as to how many Amish books and novels – fiction and non-fiction (Yes I’ve read yours)I’ve read over the years. Reading your posts here, I believe it’s wise to remember that these fictional novels are “highly romanticized”. They almost make you want to become Amish. Most of the characters in them lead almost “perfect”lives. I’ve come to realize that the Amish have their “good points” and also their “not so good” points. But thinking on it now, us non-Amish people are the same as far as the “masking” goes. There are people who also refuse to wear a mask. Being in my 70’s, I’ve been off our farm property 5 times in 7 months. I somewhat miss going out but in another sense I don’t miss it at all. My husband is the one who does the grocery shopping, banking, etc. so that I don’t have to. He is careful, but I still worry. He is still working at his business where he has customers come in the shop. I’ve asked him how many people come in wearing masks and he says about 50%. His shop is out of the city limits (the city itself requires masks). So, regardless, Amish or non-Amish both sides are putting others (young & old) in danger of contacting the virus. I’ll be very happy (hopefully) when this year is over.
As a child, I always wanted to become a nun. In high school I even visited the nun’s mother house and was having a habit sewn for me. Then I changed my mind. There were a lot of changes happening in the church at that time. I eventually got married. I also wonder about “destiny” a lot. This was one of your posts that gets a person to “thinking”!!
Thank you, Kris, for your thoughts. I had no idea that you had pondered becoming a nun. It makes you wonder about the path you didn’t take, doesn’t it? I often ponder that for myself.
Good that you realize you need to read Amish novels with a grain of salt… or maybe a whole shaker full!
I think the difference between those who refuse to wear masks in the mainstream culture and those who don’t among the Amish is the concept of choice. I don’t know what would happen to anyone in the community who decided to wear a mask and distance herself from others in the community. I’m pretty sure she would be ostrasized. In our mainstream culture, it is more of a personal decision to be stubborn about that. I’m not saying that is any better necessarily, but if someone in the mainstream culture decided to change their opinion on that, they have the freedom to do so. The weight of the culture is not brought down on them to bear.
So glad you found this post thought-provoking.
Have a wonderful weekend.
Wow Saloma, what a great way to look at the life you had and the one you chose. I agree that in some ways our life is planed out for us. along the way we may choose the wrong way but I think God just redirects us in the way we were destined to go. When I was a young girl I remember praying and asking God if I would have children when I grew up (I have always been crazy about kids). And to this day I can still here that voice tell me in my head that I would have six. After my third son, third child my husband insisted I have my tubes tied so I could know longer have any more children. I was heart broken but did as he wanted (that’s another story). We were married 18 years and then divorced. I then met and married my current husband, a man devoted to God and his family and whom I adore, of 16 years who came into this marriage with three sons of his own. So here I am with six wonderful sons whom I adore. I am still amazed at the workings of God. Did he know I would have two husbands and eventually six sons? was it predestined? Like you I was never part of the “in crowd”. I was more of a wall flower. I was old fashioned in a lot of ways, still am. I love to cook, dry my clothes outside, wash my dishes by hand, can, and wear long skirts instead of pants. When people look at me like I’m crazy I just remember that “I am wonderfully made” by God and he has put me where I am because that is part of his eternal plan.I truly believe Saloma that you are where you are suppose to be and doing what you were put here to do. For you are”fearfully and wonderfully made”.
Pamela, I’m glad this has triggered your own thoughts of past and present. I am at the age when I find it meaningful to take stock of where I’ve been and where I am now.
That is amazing that you always thought you would have six children, and now you do.
I applaud your decision to stick with what has heart and meaning, even if it’s not the in way to be. Old fashioned is good for some of us, isn’t it? I like how you remember you are a child of God. This is a good reminder for everyone.
So good to see you here, Pamela.
I hope that your friend Ruth was able to make it through her experience with the virus.Have you heard from her again? She sounds like a wonderful, life-long friend!
Welcome Pamela! I spoke to Ruth by telephone, and found out she had recovered. I then wrote her a letter, but I’ve not heard back. We sometimes go years without being in touch, so it is always a treat when I hear from her again.
Yes, Ruth is a wonderful life-long friend. It is a blessing to have her in my life.
Thank you for reading, and for your comments.