America is a big, wild place. There are lots of different kinds of people here. That is a truism, of course (haven’t we all heard enough about “diversity” already?). But occasionally, you’ll read a book or an article, or hear a story on the news, and it hits you that there are some regions, some communities, so vastly different from your own that it’s almost impossible to believe the two of you can share the same country. I like having these realizations—even if the experience of doing so can sometimes be wrapped up in cliché—because they can make for great stories.
Carolyn grew up in Amish country, in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Having spent some time there myself—heck, having gotten married there last August—I’ve become accustomed, when visiting Carolyn’s family, to seeing Amish people out doing their thing. I’m now used to the hazards of eluding horse-drawn buggies; to the Pennsylvania Dutch names adorning flower shops and craft boutiques (the name “Stolzfus”, which for some reason I really like, pops up everywhere in Carolyn’s hometown); to the ubiquitous, crisp, plain-looking clothing that hangs out to dry on sunny summer days (no washing machines allowed). I’m not an expert by any means—I’ve spoken to very few Amish people in my life—but I’ve been lucky to have been exposed to a small part of their world.
It seems to me that people tend to either scoff at the simplicity and willful isolation of the Amish or romanticize their strong sense of community and incredibly powerful sense of forgiveness. Rarely can we find—from outsiders, that is—a true picture of what Amish life is like.
A few weeks ago, my college roommate and good friend emailed me this essay about Amish people and their affinity for softball.* It is a beautifully written, insightful, and, above all, nuanced portrayal of Amish life. It’s also really informative. I learned that up to eight percent of Amish people are millionaires because their land is worth a great deal of money. I learned about Amish theology (drawn completely from the New Testament), and about the theories behind their strict rules of conduct. And I re-learned that Amish boys can be really, really good at softball and baseball (I can personally attest to their skill—earlier this summer, Carolyn and I went on a date to watch the Amish play softball at the local park).
So I figured I’d pass the article along for you to enjoy. Let us know what you think.
* The article repeatedly refers to Amish baseball, but Carolyn, who grew up in the area, is adamant that the Amish mostly play softball. It’s hard to tell why the author made this mistake, but throughout the piece it’s often ambiguous as to which sport he’s talking about.
** I had no idea, for instance, that the reasoning behind many of the prohibitions lies in the desire to strengthen the bonds between families within the community. Take the prohibition on central heating. Why does it exist? Because central heating would allow family members to spend more time alone in their heated bedrooms, rather than gathering together in the living room on cold winter nights, next to the wood stove.