Last weekend, after a harrowing (NASCAR) drive to Lancaster, Sparrow and I had quite the adventure. Sometimes it takes me a few days to decompress, to reflect and think about what all happens in such a short period of time.
This past weekend was no different.
Each time I travel to Lancaster, I’m struck by how accepting and gracious my Amish friends are. They welcome me into their homes, hearts, and lives in a way that is…well…humbling. That’s been a big word for me these past few years and, even more so, these past few weeks.
The highlight of the weekend, of course, was not just the fact that I was invited to attend church again…but the expectation that I would do so. This was not my first time visiting an Amish church service. But this time, something different happened. Something magical.
For starters, when we arrived, a small boy approached me. He stood before me with his feet planted firmly to each side and a smile on his all-too-familiar face. It was a face I have seen many times before…on television, in movies, on the street. With beautiful crystal blue eyes staring up at me, the small boy asked me a question in Pennsylvania Dutch: “Who are you?” To my surprise, I understood and was able to answer him. He smiled and looked up at Sparrow: “And you?” he asked. After she responded, he turned back to me and, again in Dutch, asked, “Why are you here?” When I told him that we had been invited, he seemed satisfied and stuck out his little hand for me to shake.
“He’s a Down Syndrome boy,” my Amish friend whispered to me.
I nodded. “He’s simply beautiful,” I replied. And I meant it.
The other Amish women were standing around, watching my exchange with young Daniel. They seemed pleased with how I had handled it, how I had understood his questions, and how I had responded. From that moment onward, I noticed a shift among the people. Perhaps it was because they have all seen me before that day. Perhaps it was because word had spread about how both Sparrow and I had helped my friend when her sister died last year. Or perhaps it was just…because.
When I travel to stores to buy my thread for crocheting or books for reading, people recognize me in the small towns that I visit. I always stop to chit-chat…ask Diane Cunningham, a fan of my books whom I was fortunate enough to meet. Ask Sparrow who sometimes is left, tapping her toe waiting for me to stop gabbing. I love to meet people, love to talk with them, love to share stories and listen to theirs.
During the service, when it was time to sing from the Ausbund, Sparrow glanced at me. I saw her. Just a simple peek out of the corner of her eye. I was singing the hymns with the Amish congregation. In High German. I saw her raise an eyebrow and the hint of a smile cross her lips. I’m not known for being able to carry a tune…not even if it was put into a paper bag with strong handles. But I didn’t care. I was moved and wanted to sing. I made certain to sing softly…I didn’t want to embarrass myself. But I sang.
Afterwards, at least five women approached me, asking me how I enjoyed the service. I hadn’t understood the sermons…one was just a wee-bit too long for my taste (and apparently theirs, too, for several women nodded and confessed that the visiting minister had spoken for too much time to suit them). But when I told them that I sang, they all giggled and smiled at me, a sparkle in their eyes that I don’t always see when I meet Amish women for the first time.
After the service and after we had enjoyed the fellowship meal with the other church members, one Amish woman approached me. She handed me a pie and told me to take it home, but gently scolded me to be certain to share it with Sparrow (luckily, Sparrow isn’t too fond of Apple Schnitzel Pie!). She also invited us back, to visit and to the next service. I left the farm in a daze.
How has this happened to me, I wondered. It’s a question that I’m constantly asking myself.
I can remember that day, over twenty five years ago, when I first ventured to Lancaster on my own, determined to meet an Amish family. Everyone that I met laughed at me and told me that, under no circumstances, would the Amish ever accept me. Not only was I considered an Englischer (regardless of my Mennonite background), but I was a woman! As usual, when told NO, I grew even more determined to prove them wrong.
Yet, even now, so many years later, I cannot believe how this has happened. From the glowing eyes of a young boy with Down Syndrome to an Amish woman teasing me as she gives me a cherished pie, I consider myself beyond fortunate and…dare I say it again?…humbled by the love and respect that I receive from my Amish friends.