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A different way to live

A different way to live


An Amish boy’s church clothes.

Yesterday, we toured an Amish farm outside Berlin, Ohio. A 16-year-old in an ankle-length dress showed us the schoolhouse. It was the sort of place Abe Lincoln might have studied in.

“We appreciate and use the services of people with advanced educations,” she said, “but we feel like an eighth grade education is sufficient for our way of life.”

“Have you ever used a computer?” I asked.

“No. I’d probably be lost.”

“Have you ever watched TV?”

“No.”

Two days a week, she gives farm tours. Occasionally, she works as a substitute teacher. The rest of the time she’s doing chores or visiting family and friends.

There was a younger girl in the barn, leather boots two sizes too big under her dress.

“We had a pony that was hard to break,” she said. “We lost so many carriage wheels. He’d run you right over the curb and bend the wheel. One time, he lost my brother. I heard the cart come crashing down the lane without him.”

Later, we took a carriage ride with one of the elders.

“How fast can this horse go?” I asked.

“About 10 miles an hour. You wouldn’t want to make a 50-mile trip with her.” He grinned.

“What’s the furthest trip you’ve taken?”

“Mmmm… about 31 miles.”

31 miles.

What if we limited our lives to the 31 miles around our homes; to the distances our horses could roam?

In the gift shop, we bought Claire an Amish doll. She’s got a dress and bonnet, but her face is blank. No eyes, no nose, no mouth. The Amish refuse to put faces on dolls, consider them graven images. It’s the same reason they don’t like being photographed.

We’re the opposite of the Amish. We take selfies while we’re sweating on the toilet, write captions like: “Good god, I shouldn’t have eaten those ghost peppers!!”

We try to capture everything, to leave behind digital footprints. It’s us saying “I was here. I mattered. Don’t forget me when I’m gone.”

The Amish wouldn’t understand. They prize humility over almost any other virtue. It’s “right up there after godliness” writes Jerry Eicher in A View from the Buggy.

They use the word Gelassenheit, too. It translates as yieldedness or letting-be.It’s something I’m still learning; to appreciate the things I have, to stop striving so hard after the things I don’t. It’s a lesson those teenage girls — the ones who spend their days answering questions from us “English” folks — know in their bones.

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Looking for an amazing daytrip? We visited the Amish at Yoder’s Amish Home(about 3 hours northeast of Dayton). Ohio has the biggest Amish population in the U.S., and there are about 20,000 Amish in Holmes County alone. We saw at least 25 carriages driving on the roads around Berlin. If you want to turn it into a weekend, stay nearby in an Amish-built treehouse.

Fredrick Marion

Fredrick Marion

I like books that refuse to let you sleep at night. I like coffee, talking animals and hearing from readers. Sign up for my email newsletter, and I'll send my latest blog posts to your inbox!

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