Saturday, March 20, 2010

Forgiveness Divine

Originally written on September 30, 2009:
So far, I've done a lot of writing about my former home state of Florida and of my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. So, I thought today I'd address my newly adopted state of Pennsylvania. The Keystone State sits in a truly beautiful part of the country and has a lot to brag about. Besides being the birthplace of my beloved Grandma Simmons, it's rich history spans from the American Revolution in Valley Forge, through the Civil War battles of Gettysburg, to the current Super Bowl Champs of Pittsburgh and World Series Champs of Philadelphia.

Perhaps one of Pennsylvania's most popular tourist attractions, however, lies just thirty minutes from our home here in York. People come from all over the country to converge on the little county of Lancaster, to see the Amish. Lancaster was one of the first places Alan and I visited when we were thinking of moving up here. It's just beautiful country, with rolling hills and winding roads. Everywhere you look, you'll see horse-drawn carriages pulling straw-hatted, suspender-wearing men with long beards. As you drive along Route 30, you pass farm after farm of these men sitting behind huge plows being pulled by a team of horses. Just outside their wrap-around porched homes stand clotheslines displaying black pants, blue shirts, simple hand-sewn dresses and white bonnets.

There are painted signs in their yards reading "Fresh Asparagus," "Home made Root Beer," or "Corn for Sale." The tiny shops along the road display handcrafted quilts and plaques with bible verses etched into them, reading, "Be still and know that I am God," and "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." I've been to Lancaster several times since we've moved here, and the more I go there, the more amazed I am that this little town is so popular. Although most cities across America are having a tough time trying to survive in today's economy, this is not the case in Lancaster. Even the non-Amish sector is thriving. The Best Westerns and Holiday Inns that boast "Just minutes from Amish Country!" are booked solid. The Amish museum and the local venders on the outskirts of the farmland are all showing profits.

Why the huge attraction, do you think? When it comes down to it, we're spending our tourist dollars to visit a tiny town and watch people in simple clothing, with simple means of transportation and farm equipment, do without. Why are we so fascinated by this? When Alan's parents visited recently, they brought along Alan's Aunt Sherry and Uncle Paul. Uncle Paul runs his own (modern) farm in Boaz, Alabama, so naturally, the first place he wanted to go was Amish Country. We all piled into the car and drove the thirty minutes to the "Simple Life." Uncle Paul watched the straw-hatted man behind the horse-drawn plow for a few seconds, then said, "You have to respect a people who shed off all the distractions of modern day and just simplify everything. But I gotta tell you, I LOVE my tractor!!"

I think that's pretty much the gist of Amish Country. It puts on display for us a whole community of people that are "doing without," "stripping away distractions," and focusing on God and family. We say, "Wow, that's awesome!" then happily climb into our gas-guzzling SUV's and hurry home to our dishwashers and Ipods and declare, "I could never live like that!" Then something happened that brought to the forefront not only the Amish way of life, but also the Amish heart, soul and immense faith.

This Friday, October 2nd, will mark the three year anniversary of the day that a thirty-two year old gunman, Charles Carl Roberts IV, burst through the doors of West Nickel Mines School in Lancaster County. Roberts took female hostages ranging in age from six to thirteen, bound their hands and feet, and eventually shot and killed five of them execution-style before turning the gun on himself. Five other shooting victims survived, although one does not have full vision in her left eye. The youngest victim, six at the time of the shooting , suffered severe brain damage and is confined to a wheelchair. Family members say she frequently smiles.

Like any school shooting, Nickel Mines School attracted intense media attention and the Amish community was immediately swarming with news vans and dramatic journalists wanting to scoop each other. None of them were prepared for what happened next.

That was when the Amish community shocked the entire world with three simple words: "We forgive him." They didn't just say the words, either, they put them into action. A Roberts family spokesperson said an Amish neighbor visited the stunned relatives just hours after the shooting and offered forgiveness. One Amish man held Roberts' sobbing father in his arms, reportedly for an hour, comforting him. They also set up a charitable fund for the shooter's family.

I'll never forget watching the coverage of that tragedy, sitting in my living room in Orlando. I remember particularly watching Matt Lauer on the Today Show doing an extended piece about the amazing "forgiveness" that occurred. Since the Amish don't do interviews, Matt had as his guests several different religious scholars. One was a rabbi, another a religion professor, the third a Christian pastor. Matt began with an exasperated shrug, and with palms up, arms out, beseeched his panel, "How are they able to forgive?" Matt told them he had children of his own, and that if that man had done this to any of THEM, he'd be wanting severe vengeance.

I'll always remember the pastor's response: "Jesus commands us to forgive, no matter what. In this case, it's very, very hard. It takes PRACTICE. This level of forgiveness requires practice. The Amish PRACTICE forgiveness very diligently." That struck such a chord with me. The Amish, despite their long beards, straw hats and while bonnets, are human, just like me. They get angry over injustice and grieve the loss of their loved ones, just like me. But they PRACTICE being what they know God wants them to be. How many times have I lost my temper and just shrugged it off, saying, "Hey, I'm Irish! We have short fuses!" It's just so easy to justify our bad behavior with excuses we claim are beyond our control. The Amish show us what frauds we all are.

And don't tell me they didn't feel intense anger and grief over the way their sweet girls were brutally taken from them. Google the press releases from that day and take a look at the grieving faces of that community. They had that entire school house completely demolished a week after the incident, they couldn't stand to have the slightest reminder of what occurred there.

There were also many "experts" who criticized the Amish for their forgiveness. They cited that to forgive when no remorse has been expressed denies the existence of evil. My response to them would be this: Apparently, at the scene of the crime that day, police reported there wasn't a chair, desk, or floorboard that wasn't splattered with the blood of those children. I don't believe anyone who saw that room that day has any doubt about the reality of evil.

So, today, in honor of the anniversary of that horrible day in my newly-adopted state, I'm re-affirming the pledge I made after watching that Matt Lauer interview in 2006. I'm going to practice being better. I'm going to practice being less selfish and more caring. I'm going to loosen my grip a little on the "hating of my enemies" I've been enjoying so much. It's going to take work, I know. But, the truth is, the Amish have called my bluff. They look at me with five little child-sized white bonnets in their hands and say, "It can be done."

Thanks for reading!!

29 comments:

Helena said...

That was indeed the most poignant thing that happened that year. It was surreal that these people had to endure that. It was the ultimate demonstration of forgiveness. thanks for helping us to remember!

Eva Gallant said...

That was a very moving post. Thanks for writing it.
By the way, are you a member of SITS? (The Secret is in the Sauce). I don't see their button anywhere. I only ask because you live in PA, and they are having a bloggers workshop in September. I plan to drive down from Maine, and I'm hoping some of the bloggers I follow will be there. If you aren't familiar with SITS, go to my blog and you'll find a button (it's mostly pink). If you click on it, it will take you to their site and you can check it out. (It doesn't cost anything to belong, although there is a charge to attend the workshop.

Julie said...

Oh, thank-you for that beautiful reminder. I had forgotten this story...we should never forget this story. Forgiveness--we all want it for ourselves, but it's so hard to give, isn't it. What a perfect lesson from these good people, and you've highlighted it perfectly--it takes PRACTICE. I really love your posts. Thanks again!

The Warrior in ME said...

Joan, you do not know what you have done for me today. Somebody who betrayed the blind faith i've had in her since i was 4 years old (my once-upon-a-time best friend) who i once managed to forgive, then kept cussing in my head due to the resentment i bore within, just posted a comment on my blog and managed to upset me all over again. This may sound childish to you, but i'm all of 23 and having a friend of 19 years cheat your mother out of her money and do some monstrous acts driving you to the brink of suicide cannot be easy. I can vouch for that.

This story made me take a deep breath, have the courage to just delete that comment, forgive her in my heart and move on to do greater good in my day.

So, thank you (i realize i keep thanking you everyday for your wonderful stories) once again.

Love,
The Warrior in ME.

Kakka said...

I too wonder if I could find forgiveness in my heart for one who committed such an evil act. The faith of the Amish is to be truly admired. Thanks for sharing this heart felt post. May we all learn a little from this.

Mercy said...

Forgiveness is never easy, no matter what you have to forgive for. When I first heard about this incident, I was amazed at how they were able to forgive so quickly. And they didn't just say they forgived him, but went and set up the trust fund for his family right away. That is true forgiveness in action.
I've had things happen where I had to choose to forgive those involved, and it was so hard for me. I guess I just need more practice.

Icy BC said...

It's such beautiful piece! I don't remember where I was when this happened, but I feel as if I was watching it through your writing.

Kaloula said...

In a time of such senseless acts, I've created a new blog to spread random acts of kindness and stories of inspiration..check it out!
http://onepersonmakingadifference.blogspot.com

GregoryJ said...

I have to work on forgiveness and forgetting. It only hurts me; no one else.

I grew up in NW PA and there were Amish families around there. They have an amazing life in this world of ours.

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

These photo's were beautiful and moving.
Thank you.

Elle said...

I remembered this story and thought about the Amish of Pennsylvania when I visited Minnesota's Amish country this year. Not only was I amazed by how "simplified" their lives are (and I put simplified in quotes because they live simpler lives that aren't all that simple because they shun all of the modern day conveniences that can make life so much easier), but their welcoming and friendly attitudes as well.

Though the photos are moving, it makes me sad to see them. Amish do not like photographs--they are graven images and are against their religion. It's sad that, at such a time of sorrow, they had to worry about the cameras as well.

Kathleen said...

Wow, what a powerful story. Thanks for reposting. I missed it the first time.

Bossy Betty said...

Thanks for the tour and the moving tribute to an amazing people.

Red Shoes said...

Hey you... what a wonderful post! Forgiveness is Divine...

Anger, I think causes one to fester... and the festering causes an ulcer... which just eats everything up...

To me, the act of Forgiveness is something we do for ourselves... so that we can eventually ground ourselves... and get on with Life...

My little brother is angry with me because I forgave an older sister for something she did to us... I remind him from time to time, that just because I forgave her, it doesn't mean that I have forgotten...

Thank you again for this story!

~shoes~

Jen said...

Thankyou for sharing this post as although I knew of the shootings I dong remember it being widely covered here, I don't remember about the forgiveness and find it remarkable. I admire the simple life the Amish lead and when we eventually come to visit America I would like nothing more than to visit their town.

Loving Wife, Working Mom said...

Beautiful post at a time when I have to forgive at work and was wondering if I could. Now I know, that not only I can, but I HAVE to, and will.

Momma Fargo said...

Very moving. Great post. A reminder to us all. And forgiveness is powerful to the forgiver and the forgivee.

Kellyansapansa said...

You never fail to move me with your posts. You need to start putting tissue warnings at the beginning!

www.kellyansapansa.blogspot.com

THE OLD GEEZER said...

The Amish are a great example to the fast paced self centered Christian community on how to forgive.

Ace said...

I didn't realize it had been that long. I admire the faith of the Amish and hope that should I ever find myself in such a situation I could act with half as much grace and strength. In the meantime, I can show forgiveness in all the little things. Holding a grudge usually hurts the one holding it more than anyone else and life is too short to waste on negative emotions.

Green-Eyed Momster said...

Your posts almost always move me to tears. I can't imagine the horror of the entire event. I don't know if I would be able to forgive.

I have forgiven the people who've wronged me in the past and after I did that, great things started happening in my life. There's no doubt about it. I felt lighter afterwards too. You probably don't remember my forgiveness post around Christmas of last year.

Thanks for sharing this story. I had no idea about it at all.

Hugs!!

gamommy2two said...

I'm just going to chime in with what everyone else is saying. Thank you for reminding me that forgiveness IS divine and that it's HARD, but it's really the only way to truly heal from heartache. I have no doubt those Amish families are in a much better place mentally now than they would be if they saught vengeance.

The Redhead Riter said...

"Jesus commands us to forgive, no matter what. In this case, it's very, very hard. It takes PRACTICE."

So true, unfortunately. If we do not continually practice, our heart becomes too prideful. Wonderful post.♥

TechnoBabe said...

You really are a good writer. Hate is hate, isn't it? You are so right. I too have to work on my dislike of people who are unfair or cruel or in my eyes evil. This is a tough one. I hope you write more about this belief and ways it would be possible to attain the true forgiveness of the heart.

Heatherlyn said...

I don't think that forgiving should be based on someone else's remorse first. Forgiveness allows the wronged party to let go of the hurt and the bitterness and the anger that would rob them of an otherwise happy and peaceful life as they continue to exist beyond the incident. How niave to think that forgiveness is only for the benefit of the one who has committed the crime. I'm sure the Amish know this. Forgiveness is a way to survive through grief and beyond it.

Denise said...

What an amazing post! It reminds us that forgiveness is everything, it is also a release. If we can forgive and let go of anger we would most definitely be better for it. Is it possible? I truly hope so.

Yankee Girl said...

What a great and moving post.

I used to be so good at holding a grudge, and now I just don't have the energy for it anymore. Why hold on to those negative feelings when you can release them to make room for happy, positive thoughts. I am not religious, but forgiveness is something we all should practice. If not out of belief of a God, then for ourselves. Life really is better when we aren't spending time hating people. It is for me anyway.

Richard @ The Bewildered Brit said...

Great post. I really don't know how I could even begin to forgive someone who did something like that.

You're right, though: we should all, always try to be better people.

Teresa Evangeline said...

It's raining cats and dogs. The Atlantic is in white-cap mode and I couldn't stop crying at this reminder of the power of forgiveness. Thank you.

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