In a world where each morning paper and TV news program is filled with the latest statistics on war, crime, drug addiction, depression, divorce,obesity, ADHD, unemployment and gender struggles, it was a surprising and enlightening experience for me to enter a nearby community where these issues are rarely seen.
Each Saturday morning, I drive about 20 minutes up country (Lancaster County, Pa.) to get my weekly supply of one and a half gallons of raw milk. I always enjoy this short trip through the Amish countryside but, particularly, I value the visit at the Stolzfuss farm. Steve (long beard) and Katie have seven children ranging in age from 20 to 3 and tend a lovely farm and a herd of 30 Jersey cows.The farm is pristine, neat, and always there are smiling children busy at different chores and absorbed happily in their work. There is a palpable air of peace here and Katie and the children are warm, friendly and respectful of their visitors.
I ask Katie about her home -- they have no TV, computers, or cell phones. She tells me with a smile, "The children don't get to use their brains if they have a computer that does all the thinking for them." Katie's clothing is simple -- dark dress and apron, her hair is swept back traditionally in a tight bun.
My wife always insists on accompanying me on this weekly trip. Notwithstanding the incredibly delicious and healthy raw milk, we both are palpably nourished by what we see and particularly by what we don't see or encounter. The children are clear-faced, open, somewhat curious, and extremely friendly. In my many visits there I have never heard any whining, complaining or anger. Katie tells me that they all have duties and they start as young as 3 or 4 years of age cleaning and tidying their rooms. The older ones work in the garden, tend the store or help the father with the farming duties. Work (without pay) is an established and accepted duty, without which the farm could not function. The children seem to know and understand this. It takes a little time to savor the difference between this household and what we might be accustomed to seeing -- no texting and no cell phones clamped to the ear.
Often, driving home from our visit, we talk about what we have just experienced. It seems quietly true to me that we have witnessed a brief journey back in time. We have seen clearly that the simplest things are often the most profound and the peace that we all seek is indeed not only accessible but very close to our inner being. This lifestyle grows out of faith, love and an uncluttered sense of being in the here and now without all the accoutrements that interfere.
I Googled Amish and found this phrase: "The Amish welcome new members who wish to follow Jesus and His basic teachings in community with other believers." I think, maybe, this is what I learned in children's Bible class many years ago.
It seemed clear to me that these simple and quiet farm people were doing what our founding fathers set out to do several centuries ago. Life was simple (survival rather than acquisition). People worked closely, in communities, with one another. We "walked the walk" rather than "talked the talk." Our spiritual belief or religion was demonstrated in how we got along with, served, and treated our neighbors. Now, life is moving at breakneck speed -- so much to do in so little time -- and in the process we are losing touch with the very things that are our true nourishment. Stopping to smell the daisies -- which the Amish do every day -- seems to be increasingly difficult for most of us.
"Doing unto others as you would have them do unto you" is a high principle and one which arguably should be the cornerstone of our society. How each culture deals with adversity can be very different. A striking example of this occurred a few years ago, in the Amish community, when a deranged man entered a school and shot dead a number of children. The reaction of the community to this shock was perhaps even more powerful than the atrocity itself. The parents of the murdered children sought out the wife and family of the murderer and gave solace to them.
One Saturday, my wife and I, driving home -- raw milk gurgling in its jug -- thought to ourselves, what a gold mine we have in our backyard with these simple yet amazing Amish folk! So much to learn from them so much gold to be mined.