July 31, 2009

Letting Go…

Category: News — Ira @ 6:53 pm


All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.

—Havelock Ellis

About once a year or so, it seems, they trot out another one. This one was shown in England last weekend. An Amish-themed documentary entitled “Trouble in Amish Paradise”. One more film about a fascinating backwards culture, one more tidbit for the ravenous maw of mainstream appetite, one more attempt to satiate a hunger that can never quite find its fill.

It featured two local Amish couples who set out, some time ago, on a quest for truth. And followed that path to its ultimate end. They began to question the established church practices and beliefs. And as the title suggests, their queries created a great firestorm of trouble. One of the two couples was excommunicated. Of the other couple, only the husband was. Someone emailed me a link to the film and I watched a few minutes of it. Later that day, I logged on to see the remaining fifty or so minutes, and the link was gone. So I didn’t get to see it all. A few friends who did see it reported they thought it was pretty fair and tastefully done. And honest.

I don’t know the two couples and their families. They both reside here in Lancaster County. I don’t know what triggered their discontent, their search and the subsequent journey of faith they traveled. But I feel for them. I can imagine the pain and uncertainty they faced. The intense stressors they encountered. From a whole lot of sources. Family. Relatives. Friends. And, not least, the Amish church. It’s tough, to be forced to choose a path that estranges you from all you have ever known. To walk away from the security and structure of such a close-knit community life. Especially with young children.

Technically, I have no problem with their decision to allow the filming of their journey and its immediate aftermath. That was their choice to make. I do not fault them for it. And it’s really none of my business. If they felt comfortable doing it, more power to them. It’s not like I don’t do something very similar, in much of my own writing. I have few illusions on that point. But for the rare insider perspective of my Amish back- ground, my stories would attract only a fraction of my current readers.

And yet, I have mixed feelings about the documentary. About spilling out for all the world to see the intricate details of the journey. Not because of the details themselves. Anything that happens to anyone is fair game. But because the events are so close. So fresh, so recent. It all just happened. And the drama continues. How can anyone be in a frame of mind to discuss the events rationally in so short a time? I’m not saying they weren’t rational, the couples. I didn’t see most of the documentary. But from my own experiences and from what I’ve seen of others, it’s almost impossible to absorb and process the pain of cultural separation and rejection absent the passage of substantial time.

I have seen them, encountered them again and again over the years. Individuals and families who had left the Amish. Joined the Beachy church. The Mennonites. Charity. Mainstream Protestants. Some are outright “English” and wander alone, with no claims of affiliation.

I have spoken to them and listened to their stories. You can soon tell which ones have dealt with the wounds of the past and which ones are still struggling and which ones probably never will get over it. They have a hungry bitter eagerness, those who still struggle, to speak of it incessantly. Of how they were wronged. How cruelly they were treated. How patriarchal and dictatorial the Amish system is. The manmade rules, how unscriptural they are. How arbitrarily applied. How the Amish are lost. Some few even state with grim certainty that one cannot be Amish and be a Christian.

When I talk to such people, there is no question their pain is real. You can see it in their eyes. The hard lines on their faces. The constant mental strain. I feel sorry for them.

They just can’t let it go. Can’t let it rest. Not with the passing of time. Not for any reason. Like Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress, they stumble along the footpath, stooped and bowed by the great weight of baggage on their backs.

And that simply is not healthy. Can’t be.

I’m not saying the couples in the documentary were like that, or are like that. Or will be like that. I am saying that the painful events they experienced are probably still way too fresh for them to have dealt with and processed the resulting emotional turmoil.

The Amish church was founded around three hundred years ago. It’s not going anywhere, regardless of the myriad doomsayers who somewhat gleefully predict its imminent demise. It is solid and it will endure.

The structure of the Amish church has remained largely unchanged since its inception. Yes, the power is centered on the ministers and bishops, regardless of how much they might protest they are just “servants.” They are not servants. They are leaders, with a lot of raw power. They can be dictatorial. Decisions are often made that simply make no sense, however one looks at them. Yes, members are expected to submit to the church’s authority in all matters. Yes, it can be a hard road for anyone with a spark of individuality. And yes, it can be almost impossible to break away without losing your mind.

But it can be done.

Sometimes the Amish lifestyle in general makes little sense, even to those of us who emerged from it. And the further one is removed, the less sense it makes. But I try to keep in mind that the structure and rules are a survival mechanism, without which the culture would be swept into the mainstream, probably within a generation. No longer separated. No longer distinct.

Which to me wouldn’t be a big deal. But it is to them.

Here I directly address those who were raised Amish or in some other similar plain setting. You can always choose to leave. Maybe you already have left. As a lot of us did. But if you make or have already made that choice, it seems to me, there should be no expectations of changing the cultural structure that has anchored the church for so long. A structure that was in place long before you were born. And will be here long after you are gone.

If you suddenly see the light, and conclude that all those manmade traditions and rules are unbiblical, that the bishop has too much power, whatever, by all means follow your own conscience. State your position. Do what you have to do. But then, don’t complain when the inevitable consequences follow. Don’t expect an entire culture to see things your way. That’s like kicking a concrete wall, expecting it to give. It won’t. You’ll only hurt yourself. And endure a lot of needless suffering.

We all have to find our own equilibrium, those of us who left. Our own sense of who we are, where we’re going, and how we’ll get there. And how we absorb and deal with the daily consequences of our choices.

Some deal with it one way and some another. Some never do.

Letting go is the only answer. Let go the rage, the anguish, the hurts, the wrongs. Life’s not fair. Just let it rest. That doesn’t mean there won’t be flashbacks. Or that you never have to deal with the issues again. Or that you won’t have to vent occasionally, when something sneaks up and whaps you upside the head. And that’s OK.

It does mean you can take control and live a productive life without allowing the hurts of the past to control your present well being. That you can walk in calmness, with a peaceful heart. You can even reach a point where you respect and honor the good things the Amish hold on to, of which there are many.

Not that you have to reach that point. But you can.

Only by letting go will you ever be truly free.


I’ve always been quite vocally opposed to tanning beds. The oven-like contraptions you lay in to get a fake tan. The people you see strolling about in the dead of winter with dark tans, most of them, get it from artificial sources. I’ve always proclaimed they will pay for every minute spent in a tanning bed. It just can’t be healthy. Can’t be. Common sense tells you that.

Now I’m not so sure. May have reevaluate my position. Last week the Feds came out with a study showing that lying in a tanning bed is equivalent to soaking in arsenic. Pretty nasty stuff. My natural inclination is always to take any federal study and conclude that the opposite is true. I remember all the hype and hysteria about caffeine, second hand smoke, fiber, and so on, ad infinitum. It’s always something. What will kill you one year may well be proclaimed healthy the next. 1984, anyone?

So I may have to try the tanning bed this winter. In any case, the activity will be taxed soon enough. Anything that’s perceived as bad for you is taxable. There’s a reason this particular study was released now, when tax revenues are plummeting everywhere. And with the insane wackos now running the country, nothing is off limits.

This week, I took somber note as Big Blue cranked over his 30,000th mile. Wow. Can’t believe it. Where has the time gone? Seems like only a couple of months ago that I proudly drove the truck off the lot, glistening and brand spanking new.

July 24, 2009

Random Musings

Category: News — Ira @ 6:53 pm


A deadline is negative inspiration. Still,
it’s better than no inspiration at all.

—Rita Mae Brown

I wonder sometimes, after posting another childhood sketch, what the reactions of my readers really are. A few comments always trickle in, but compared to the total number of readers each week, the feedback is pretty miniscule. And that’s not a slam at anyone individually or at all of you collectively. I appreciate all who take the time to read. I’m just saying, is all.

On the surface, the sketches are stories and memories of mundane everyday things that happened long ago in a world now long gone. But in the details of each sketch lurks the incessant hunger of a child to search and seize and explore the known world around him. His community, his family, his surroundings, and the events of an ordinary day. And the world outside his established boundaries. A world that beckons, calls, fascinates. A world into which he will one day venture on a quest to search for that magical land he had glimpsed only from afar.

It’s hard to reach back through the fog of years and try to recapture the essence of the things I saw and heard and felt so long ago. To shed the crusted cynicism of age and experience, and return again to the simple wonder and innocent unpretentiousness of the child. To get there, I have to be in the right frame of mind, kind of “in the zone.” A touch of brooding melancholy helps.

Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. You never see the failed attempts, the tattered incomplete scenes that get shelved for perhaps another try another day. But it’s been fun. A lot of work, but fun.

I’ve known a few adults who somehow kept alive the flame of childish wonder of their youth. Genuinely. Naturally. Some. But very few. And I’ve seen plenty who walk about with incessant exclamations of contrived wonder. There aren’t many spectacles sadder than that. Or more irritating.

For me, true childish wonder receded long ago. Only the memories remain.

Every week or two, it seems, another email pops up in my inbox. So and so wants to be your friend on Facebook, it informs me blithely. As if there would be scant possibility that I might not want to be that person’s friend and even less of a possibility that I might not have a Facebook account. I mean, how far back in the stone age could I be?

Pretty far, apparently. Because I don’t. Have an account, that is. I’ll be almost any-one’s friend, just not on Facebook. Many of my friends and relatives do have an account. And from what they tell me, it’s a beautiful thing. A great way to keep in touch and instantly share news gossip and opinions and comments. I think most Facebook people check their sites first thing in the morning for all the latest.

And from what I’ve heard, it’s a surefire way to reconnect with old friends from way back. People you haven’t heard from in years, maybe decades. I must confess, that would be intriguing. There’s a long, long trail of people out there I’ve lost touch with. Who knows who might pop out of the woodwork?

So I’ve considered it seriously. It would be cool to hear from old friends and to join the social network. I could even link to my blog and maybe increase my readership there.

But so far I’ve resisted the temptation. Where would I find the time? I’m too busy here, working on my writing. Besides, and this is the real reason, I’m just way too paranoid. I’ve read the fine print on the Agreement you enter when you sign up. Anything you post on Facebook is their property in perpetuity, or close to it. Which means forever.

That means all your pics, all your comments, your gossip, opinions, everything. Even if you take it down, it still exists on the main database. And it’s theirs to use as they see fit.

What about this website, you might be thinking. I post a lot of stuff here. True. But there’s a huge difference. This is a real website. I pay for the domain. It’s mine. I can take it down anytime. And when it’s down, it’s gone. Not saved in some huge database.

I don’t know. I might break down and open a very basic stripped-down Facebook account at some point. Just to check out that world and see if any old friends contact me. But for now, I’m pretty content where I am.

Most of you know I’m not a fan of our current President. I never watch him speak. Can’t stand the guy. But at the baseball All Star Game last week, as the President walked out to the mound to throw the ceremonial pitch, I rooted for him. Man to man. Throw it over the plate. Or at least to the plate. I felt a bit sorry for him as he stood there and waved to the crowd. He looked lost. Come on, man, I thought. Make me proud of this, at least. He wound up and threw. The announcers fell over themselves burbling about how he “got it to the plate.” But it was a bad throw. I don’t think he did get it over, or even to the plate. Otherwise, they would have shown it.

It happens now and then, and it never fails to jolt me a bit. When I’m in public some-where, in whatever setting, and some complete stranger walks up and tells me he/she reads my blog. The first time, I think, it happened at the mall in Lancaster late last summer. I was sitting and sipping a cup of coffee at the mall center, not a whole lot on my mind, when a young Mennonite girl approached timidly. Upswept hair topped by a little covering, she looked to be maybe twenty years old.

“Are you Ira?” She asked shyly.

“I am,” I admitted, startled.

“I read your blog,” she smiled. I smiled back and thanked her. It immediately struck me that she knew a heck of a lot more about me than I’ll ever know about her. We chatted a bit and she wandered on. I have no idea who she was.

And that’s how it goes sometimes. It happened again at a wedding I attended last Saturday. Almost all who introduce themselves are either plain or from a plain back-ground. Only once or twice was it a completely “English” stranger. So far no one’s asked for my autograph. Once someone does that, I will have arrived.

One of my sisters reproached me a few weeks ago at the Kentucky family gathering. I haven’t been fulfilling my reporterly duties in proclaiming all the new babies and upcoming weddings in the family. Been doing some serious slacking, she admonished. I bristled.

“I’m not The Budget,” I grumbled. “Read The Budget for that stuff. I got more important things to write.”

My brother Steve backed me up. “No, he’s not The Budget.” Steve said.

My sister was not convinced. Or satisfied in the least. She persisted. What can be more important than family?

“Not a fair question,” I grumbled again. “Of course family is most important. But the nature of the blog has changed over time. I don’t want to bore my readers with so many factual details about people they don’t even know.” Unless I can weave a story around it, I thought to myself. But I didn’t say that.

It was no use. My defense could not stand. So, in the interest of family peace and future harmony and all that, here goes:


Andrew (my nephew) and Marnita Yutzy on the birth of their daughter, Hadassah Ilene, born June 17, 2009.

Jason (my nephew) and Julie Yutzy on the birth of their son, Nicholas Klaus, born July 3, 2009.

Congrats to the proud parents. May your daughter and son prosper, along with your other children. I don’t have pictures of both babies, so I won’t post the one I do have. For continued harmony, and peace among the Freundschaft and all that.


Mervin Wagler (my nephew) and Mary Marlene Yoder, on their wedding, which was this very day in Worthington, IN. My regrets that I could not attend.

Jason Stutzman and Mary Ann Wagler (my niece) on their engagement. The wedding is planned for October 2, 2009, also to be in Worthington, IN. I plan to attend.

And there you have it. Sorry for my slackness. Family things, even the basic factual details, are very important. And I don’t want to lose sight of that. Ever.

I am a bit distracted this week. A lot of stuff going on. Things happening. Mostly good things. Some of which I hope to share before too long.