As I sit by my coal stove I see fluffy flakes drifting down past my windows. Every now and then an Amish buggy passes the house. My youngest daughter once quipped how fun it would be to be Amish.
She has no idea.
We live in a town that is approximately fifty percent Amish, by the census bureau’s population chart. We shop at a number of Amish businesses and we have gotten to know a few to the point at which we can call each other on the street by name and stop for a chat.
What does my daughter see that is so endearing that she thinks being Amish would be fun? She sees white-sided houses with enormous gardens; clotheslines sporting fabric in hues of green, blue, and white; small children running barefoot in their yards wearing miniature versions of their parents’ garb complete with bonnets and straw hats. She sees the one-room schoolhouse with a fireplace. She sees a house so clean you could eat off of the floor, oil lanterns hanging from the ceilings, and colorful hand-made quilts on every bed. Indeed, their lifestyle appears idyllic.
What she doesn’t see: electricity and running water. Call me shallow, but I am extremely grateful for a flush toilet inside in place of an outhouse or chamber pot. The same goes for a hot shower, incandescent light bulbs, ceiling fans, and cars. Of course, during Hurricane Sandy, they could smirk and say, “Sorry to hear your power is out.”
Authors such as Wanda Lewis and Beverly Brunstetter perpetuate the public view of the “plain people” as a lifestyle for which to long, one which eschews all things modern. They way they write, the Amish are to be placed on a pedestal, holier than anyone else in America. This isn’t entirely accurate as I’ve seen Amish men with cell phones, charging them up at the local restaurant while they indulge in a cup of coffee, pie and a wad of chaw. When the Amish taxi is parked in front of the liquor store, I have to wonder. I’ve also chuckled at the teens enjoying Rumspringa. Imagine an Amish buggy plastered with bumper stickers, fuzzy dice hanging inside, and Brittney Spears blaring from the boom box. The teens take photos of each other with their cell phones and digital cameras while taking deep drags on a Marlboro. Yes, it’s for real.
These folks do possess many qualities which the world at large is sorely lacking. They take care of their elderly not by placing them in a nursing home but by building onto their own homes and providing family care. They help one another with huge building projects. They don’t know the meaning of the term “day care.” They forgive the worst of offenses because, well, that’s what Jesus did.
Setting aside the idea of the Amish paradise, I can say these people are just like you and me. They love their kids, work hard, take pride in their homes. They have addictions they’d like to break. They have bills to pay and they like it when friends come to visit. They’re no better and no worse because of what they do or don’t have. And I’ve come to the conclusion that if the power grid were to go down for an extended period, the worst loss for the Amish would be their cell phone service.
Last fall as I was driving home, I saw a young Amish woman walking. She was at least 8 miles from the nearest Amish compound. I put my window down and offered her a lift, and she gratefully accepted. As she explained to me where I could drop her off, she pulled a cell phone from her purse and began to text. I asked her about it and she said she was letting her mom know that she’d be home two hours earlier than expected. Apparently a few modern conveniences aren’t just for Rumspringa anymore.