Making the Best of a Really Bad Situation

It’s the Amish Who Show Us the Way


People have been getting shot lately. These are tragedies that wear on the soul. Near Three Forks, not long ago, a young Highway Patrolman was gunned down. In Livingston, just recently up on the Wineglass, a Florida man shot a woman several times, and she is slowly recovering (a benefit fund has been set up to help the victim and her daughter—call 222-7903). Elsewhere, of course, many more people are being killed or injured—in Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt. In Tucson recently, a troubled man possessed by some dark motive shot and killed 5 people outside a supermarket, including a federal judge and a nine year old girl. The gunman wounded a good many others, including the congresswoman he attempted to assassinate, who struggles to regain her faculties after taking a gunshot wound to the head.

Imagine finding your wife that way, or your husband, laying bloody on a sidewalk—her suffering, and the shock, disbelief and torment as you watch her fight for her life. We who watch from afar actually cannot imagine. We hear the news, find no way to process it, then go on with our day, even as such terrible things take place repeatedly in this country and around the world.

Seems everything’s gone wrong. Life seems cheap. That can be the only conclusion watching the news, as a shawled woman hovers and wails over her child in some place like Waziristan, or as we listen to another speak of her daughter’s dreams and talents, about who her little girl wanted to be before she was shot through the chest outside a Safeway in Tucson.

If we dwell on it, it makes us want to stop dreaming, to stop being positive and living for the good, as the wickedness and cynicism engendered seeps inside and causes us to withdraw or become numb.

Consider, though, that that is possibly the intent of such acts, conscious or not, that if any coherent motive exists, it is to defeat us internally—as individuals, those most traumatized, and collectively, as the masses watching on TV or reading newspapers. And if you reasonably believe no such intent is possible, recognize that the end result is the same.

With all this, consider what happened four years ago in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. I’ve been there many times. It is the land of the Amish, a vast rolling terrain of farmland dotted with barns and farmhouses. The Amish, a peaceful and industrious people, do not use modern machinery, electricity, or drive cars, and so it is common to see their black horse-drawn buggies ambling along country roads and highways as you speed by in a pick up. Veer off the highway onto minor roads winding past farmhouses during summer and you are likely to see Amish girls playing in a yard dressed in their bonnets and gray-blue dresses. Quite remarkable in this day and age, and quite the reality check. 
I recall just such a scene of school girls and their innocence, in that the Amish as a society and therefore their children do not partake of the many degrading aspects of modern culture found in television and movies that pervert the minds of the young. I even recall, and this was 25 years ago, those little girls of eight or nine years catching my glance as I drove by, and as I wondered to what extent they considered me an outsider, though I visited Lancaster County often on business in those days.

Nearby, on Oct. 2, 2006, Charles Carl Roberts entered a schoolhouse and did the unthinkable. He shot 10 Amish girls, ages 6 to 13, at close range in front of a blackboard. Then he killed himself. Roberts expressed a motive for what he was about to do, but his actions were of course beyond comprehension. Afterwards, we cannot imagine the horror that spread through the peace-loving Amish community (one without any need for police departments in various townships) or the assault upon the hearts of the families. Those families’ subsequent actions though, in a spiritual sense, were flat out revolutionary, the kind that, if emulated, would change the world.

While dealing with their own grief, the parents of the slain and their community convened (I can’t say how long afterward) and then approached the family of the shooter, his widowed wife and grandmother, and offered loving support, knowing they too suffered unspeak-able sorrow. What’s more, they forgave the shooter (he was not one of their own), and an Amish committee managing donated funds for the surviving girls gave money to Marie Roberts, the gunman's wife, to help with her three children.

Upon hearing news of the shootings, Roberts' grandmother, Teresa Neustadter, said, "We just cried and cried. We were in such a state of shock. There were no warning signs …he just kept everything inside."

For months after that tragic day, Neustadter said the Amish poured out their love and support. "It meant everything to us. ...There aren't words to describe it," she told, having been interviewed in the wake of the Tucson shootings. And Neustadter said Roberts’ family and the victims’ families remain in touch in a supportive way to this day. "It was a healing process for everyone," she said, "It was a two-way street."

In an open letter in 2006, Marie Roberts, since remarried, expressed her gratitude to the Amish for their "forgiveness, grace and mercy."

"Your love for our family has helped to provide the healing we so desperately need," Roberts wrote. "Gifts you've given have touched our hearts in a way no words can describe…Your compassion has reached beyond our family, beyond our community, and is changing our world, and for this we sincerely thank you."

Imagine then, as a remedy for tragedy, the loss of their precious little girls, the Amish families let those lives taken in a horrible act count for something profound and beautiful, as a testament to all that is good, all that is possible, in that the lives of others connected to the shooting (and with any luck ours) became permanently influenced and changed. So doing, through courage of heart, they trumped the dark mysterious intent that courses through the veins of madmen.
And what if we too found it within ourselves to do the same? How long could such insanity last—how much better would the world be? Let us salute the Amish and their creed.








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