Monday, October 16, 2006
So we are all thunderstruck at the Amish, at their ability to forgive. By now everyone who reads this has probably also read the stories about how, in the words of this writer in the Philadelphia Inquirer, "the blood was hardly dry" on the boards of the schoolhouse floor when members of the Amish community reached out to the family members of the murderer to extend their forgiveness and offers of help. Stories of how the Amish attended the man's funeral, and brought food to his home, and offered to share the funds that have been raised for their families with his family.
The example they offer us is jarring. It is like a cold bucket of water on our collective American faces. The message it gives is this: there is another way to live. There is a way to be in the world that is an alternative to the way most of us have chosen. I suppose we might ask, "But have they really forgiven him?" Hopefully we have all experienced the balm, the healing that comes when we are able to let go of an injury and truly forgive someone who has harmed us. The truth is, it is so liberating, it is so exhilarating, it's hard to understand why we don't gravitate to that response immediately. Is that what the Amish (and it's absurd to refer to them like this, I know, as if they are of one mind, like the Borg) are experiencing? Do they feel the forgiveness?
And if they do, why can't I? Why can't I forgive, for example, the family friends who sued my parents, making a hell of the last year of my mother's life? If a parent can forgive the killer of his child, why can't I forgive the guy who cuts me off in traffic?
I may be thinking about this in the wrong way. I may be expecting the feelings of forgiveness-- liberation, joy-- when, in fact, what is required are the actions of forgiveness. What the Amish community has done this week is to reach out in ways that embody forgiveness, no matter what their inner turmoil is. As the writer of the above mentioned article points out, many aspects of Amish life emphasize their conviction that the gospel calls upon us to live together in communities of caring, everything from barn-raisings to acting, literally, as one another's Social Security plan.
There is another way to live. It is in the media and on our minds and at the door of our hearts right now. I wonder if we will take notice.