The first time I saw an Amish buggy in person, I nearly drove my car off the road.
I was newly married, working for a newspaper in central Illinois, on an assignment in a little town called Arthur, where there’s an Amish settlement. In those days, I stared more than is polite, and I asked a lot of really stupid questions. When I had to call an Amish business for a story about a fundraiser, I called the chamber of commerce director first and basically asked her how I was supposed to talk to the Amish.
Back then I wouldn’t have imagined living among them in the Amish tourist capital of the United States (Lancaster County, if you’re not aware). But I did imagine what life might be like for them. I remember driving by a house and watching an Amish woman play with her children in the front yard. (Although now that I think about it, it could have been an older sister instead of a mother, but who knows?) I envied the scene. I wanted nothing more than to stay at home with kids. (Mostly because journalism is a hard job made harder if you’re an introvert.)
Then I got my wish. We moved to Pennsylvania, my husband started seminary and I was a stay-at-home mom. In the years since then, I’ve given up thinking that the Amish live an ideal lifestyle, but I still find myself drawn to their ways at times.
But what is it I think I actually want?
Books have been written on the subject, and I hear people dream of giving it all up and living off the grid like they do, but I don’t think that would solve anything for me.
I like electricity. The threat of losing it for a day or longer throws me into a panic. I like refrigerated food and a washer and dryer to launder our clothes. I like indoor plumbing (I’m not sure all Amish have outhouses) and technology. I like my online life and the ability to stay in touch with family even though we live in another part of the country. I love the ability to travel and expand my view of the world. Do I overuse and overvalue those things? Undoubtedly. But I don’t think I’d want to live without them. I don’t want to give up my clothes or conform to a way of thinking that might stifle my God-given gifts.
So, really, what do the Amish have that I desire?
For one, there’s an order to their lives. Washing on a certain day. Grocery shopping on another day. And a day dictated by the sun and the natural rhythms of life. I wonder how my life would be different if lights, television and the computer couldn’t keep me up long after the sun went down. In fact, people who were without power last week told a newspaper reporter that they went to bed early those nights.
My life is often disordered and harried, and I’m a slave to a schedule of my own making.
There is value in living an ordered life.
Related to that is rest.
The Amish work hard, yes, but they rest, especially on the Sabbath. No cooking, no cleaning. Sundays are for church or visiting. (This might be a good time to mention that I am not an expert on the Amish. These are observations based on living in this community and books I’ve read by authors I trust to get the details right. I may be wrong in some of these assumptions.)
I don’t get enough rest. Even on Sundays there is still cooking and cleaning to be done. I’m still too busy. I don’t plan rest into my week. And I’m worse for it.
Then, there’s community. They help each other out in times of trial. They take care of their family members in their old age. They take meals together. Cook together. Quilt together. No, they’re not perfect. They’re people who quarrel and envy and hurt each other, but they model a togetherness that is foreign to most of us.
I could learn a lot from the Amish about these ways.
Just don’t expect to see me in Plain clothing anytime soon.