A Sunday Driver

One Sunday morning in September, I was driving to work through the Amish farmlands. I looked out the window to see the rays of sunlight streaking through layered gray clouds, descending to warm the fields of corn below. And I was reminded that I was doing two things the Amish wouldn’t be --- driving a car and working on Sunday…

I passed several Amish buggies. Everyone was dressed in black for church. Mostly I saw families in the carriages. But one went by that had a couple teenage boys hanging out the side. As I looked in my rearview mirror, I noticed about 30 red and amber reflectors “decorating” the back of the carriage. I thought back to a conversation I had with a teenage boy about the need for so many reflectors. He said, “It’s for safety.” I responded with a smile, “You must have one of the safest buggies in Lancaster County.” He and his father had laughed.

Another carriage went by. It was what we English call a “courting buggy.” You don’t see them too much anymore, since most boys get a closed carriage nowadays. As I went by, I noticed a dapper young man in white shirt, black vest, black hat, and even a black bowtie. Being in an open buggy, he was quite easy to see. Perhaps he’ll attract an Amish girl who likes “convertibles.”

Next I drove by some teenage girls, each wearing a white cape and apron over a colored dress, and a black prayer covering. That’s what the single girls wear to church in this area. A bit up the road another girl was standing in a lane, talking to a boy. He was dressed for church, sitting on a fence. She was swaying back and forth, chatting with him. Her brother? By the body language, I guessed it was a neighbor, or perhaps her boyfriend.

Now I passed a farm where church was to be held. Quite a few carriages had already arrived. Some of the people I had passed were headed there, including a young couple pushing a stroller and walking with their little children along the road.

I went over a hill and glanced at the Stumptown Mennonite Church. They are expanding with an addition that appears to more than double the size of the building. Today the Mennonites were heading to a church building in their cars, while the Amish arrived in their horse and buggies at a neighbor’s home for worship. Yet both have the same religious roots.

I passed a one-room school, with its swing set and seesaw, all surrounded by fields of corn starting to turn brown as the cooler weather approaches. Looking at the rows of corn, I was reminded that the number of Amish farmers was declining while their population keeps growing.

A few weeks ago, an Amishman told me he was sure that less than half of the Amish were farmers anymore. He had, for example, sold his cows and started a furniture shop, while his wife sells baked goods at a stand by the house. As he told me this, I noticed the cell phone attached to his suspender pants. Some things change, while others remain the same.

I reflected on the peaceful, otherworldly quality of the farmlands. The Amish seemed content and secure in their community. But under the surface, there are certainly some problems and unhappy people, as there are anywhere. I guess it’s easy to be fooled by the utopian quality of the countryside in the morning.

As I drove along with the radio on, I heard news reports on the school massacre in Russia, a $25 million dollar reward the United States was offering for a terrorist’s capture in Iraq, and an overnight stabbing in a nearby city… back to “reality.”

I thought about a recent movie, THE VILLAGE, in which a group of people seclude themselves from the troubles and violence of the modern world in a secret community they have created. For a while, I felt like I was in such a place. Yet most Amish are aware of major events in the world, and can be affected by them. There is even a push to get out the Amish vote in the presidential election. Seclusion vs. Involvement. Can you really be “in the world but not of it?”

I made a left turn into the office parking lot. Who knew that a drive to work could pose such serious questions? That Sunday morning very little seemed to be “black-and-white” to me, except for the clothing of the Amish on their way to church.

Amish Country News Publisher's Message by Brad Igou

 

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