On day two of my time with the Amish, we arrive on schedule at my host family’s home. They had already been up for four hours and finished their morning chores of feeding the animals, starting the kitchen activities along with the host of other duties needed to keep the farm moving.
I had been scheduled to have three meetings this day. The first was with a major focus of the community’s concern. It was woman who was struggling beyond the Amish’s ability to help. Sam, the Bishop of the Amish community, his wife Clara, the woman and I sat in a room about 20’x20’. We were all sitting about 12’ to 15’ apart, a distance to which I was not accustomed but might represent the distance between our cultures. Clara sat in her starched solid color dress held together by straight pins (buttons not allowed), serene in her extra starched white bonnet with strings dangling, black hose and black shoes. The other woman was also in starched garb trying to hold with Amish traditions but appeared more disheveled. Sam sat comfortably in his blue shirt and black pants at a desk with his back turned slightly away from the process as if trying to be invisible. In his way, he was trying to help the other woman feel safe also.
Feeling safe while being emotionally vulnerable with each other is a major challenge within their culture. Boundaries are often unhealthy as the well-doers take on too much responsibility for other’s issues. Sometimes their over-involvement is not appreciated but that concern is not often voiced. While once traveling with Jake, Sam’s brother, he commented on how wide open the canyon and terrain was in the Texas Panhandle. I remarked to him how my wife feels smothered in Ohio by all the tall trees. He replied that the trees make him feel safe. It is interesting how one person can feel smothered and another safe in the same environment. This other woman was feeling smothered and this was confusing to the Amish community.
As an outsider, I knew my major task was to just be present, safe and approachable. I wanted to display for Sam and Clara how to be safer for people which in turn would help them be more open. Openness in areas where there might be a lot of pain, is not a treasured commodity for the Amish. The way I showed them how to do this was to talk to Clara with the other lady in the room. She was watching me very closely.
Because of my history with Sam and Clara, Clara was ready to talk openly. She talked about the things she had learned at The Hideaway and how she had been applying the principles. She had found herself stuck in one area and we hammered it out together. All the while, the other lady was watching, listening and sporadically writing on a notepad she held tightly in her hands.
Then, without fanfare, the other lady got up and changed her seat. She now sat almost directly in front me, which was a change from her previous position out of my line of sight. She was ready to talk. While what she talked about was important to her, I couldn’t help but see a clear reality. We were living in different cultures and her story was clearly hers, and the pain was all too familiar. The human condition is truly universal. No exceptions, no matter how far you try to isolate yourself. The same pains show up.
We talked about 2 hours and I was very careful not to give advice. She had had enough of that already. She was just looking for a safe environment to express her pain. All the while I would stop and explain to Sam and Clara what I was doing that allowed this pain-filled woman to share. I did this in front of everyone hoping that the three of them would learn how to be safe to others.
It was lunch time (dinner), we all ate together and enjoyed our visit. We began and ended our meal with a silent prayer of thanksgiving. No getting up from the table until everyone had eaten and God had been appropriately recognized. The television was not blaring in the background and the children were not hitting each other. A real delight.
The afternoon was filled with another meeting of the leaders of the community. The Bishop, the Deacon and several church members. All with their spouses which numbered around 20, filled another home’s meeting room. This time, I was there to advise them on how to deal with difficult people and situations. As I listened to their concerns it sounded just like many other meetings I had been involved with church leaders. Again, similar issues regardless of the culture.
We ended this meeting with another meal. Men served themselves first, making open face sandwiches of fried venison patties. The men scattered to the meeting room or too the porch. The women and female children stayed in the kitchen fixing their sandwiches after the men. The boys were all outside doing something, surely all productive.
I was invited to their church service to be held the following day, Sunday. This is not an invitation given to everyone, yet I declined. My Pennsylvania Dutch and High German is a little rusty, so I was afraid I wouldn’t get much out of the service. I was however, again honored that they would invite me into this part of their lives. I can’t wait to see what Monday brings.