August 29, 2008

Why I Write….

Category: News — Ira @ 6:53 pm


“At that instant he saw, in one blaze of light, an image of unutterable conviction, the reason why the artist works and lives and has his being…. It is to snare the spirits of mankind in nets of magic, to make his life prevail through his creation, to wreak the vision of his life.…”

—Thomas Wolfe

The subdued whisper was launched almost as soon as last week’s blog was posted. Out there, drifting in the ether. A mere hint, but palpable nonetheless.

And that whisper was, “Why?”

Why dig into the past and unearth the events surrounding one man and his movement? Why discuss and lay bare the essence of the community and background from which he came? What good does it do? Especially if some of the unearthed details are less than flattering. How will his family feel? And the Aylmer community? It was so long ago. Why not just let it go? Let the past rest. Let be what was.

I understand the whispers. And respect them to a point. But ultimately, I reject them.

Elmo Stoll was a man among men in his time and setting. As Aylmer was a community among communities in its time as well. What he said and wrote and did caused mighty reverberations to rumble throughout the world he inhabited, the community he for- sook, and the one he created. As any visionary leader, he was deeply flawed, as well as great. And the path he forged was well worth the time and effort required to record in detail. Because it was interesting and because it was history.

But that alone is not enough.

The Amish have been around for a long, long time. Hundreds of years. By latest count, there are today a little over two hundred twenty-five thousand Amish people. Two hundred twenty-five thousand, out of six-plus billion people in the world.

For such a small group, they have a tremendous presence in “English” society, not only in this country and this continent, but the world. They are pretty much romanticized, but that’s not their fault. Most prefer to be left alone.

Until my father and Joseph Stoll launched Pathway Publishers in the 1960s, the Amish never really had much of a voice of their own. No place from which emanated basic apologetics, a defense and explanation of their lifestyle and beliefs. With Family Life and the other Pathway publications, that voice was presented for the first time.

It was an extraordinary achievement. I admire all those who were involved. Nothing like that had ever been attempted before. They had a vision and pursued it. With un- ceasing labor. At great risk, financial and otherwise. It succeeded beyond their wildest imaginations.

They published a lot of good solid stuff. Especially on historical subjects, and common- sense articles on farming and other issues unique to the Amish lifestyle.

And yet, and this is not a criticism, only an observation, I have always felt that the fictional writings and many op-eds published by my father and others at Pathway were less than honest. Too much gooey mush. Too didactic. Too pat. Too formulaic and predictable. All the same answers, all the time.

The rebellious youth always made elaborate plans to run away from home, but then decided at the last minute to stay. Not to explore the evil world after all. And never any regrets for that choice. The chaste and beautiful (or not so beautiful) daughter shyly won her man’s heart with demur manners and downcast eyes. And the father who questioned the preachers’ authority always ended up concluding they were right and he was wrong. His repentance was always deep and sincere.


In real life, it just don’t happen like that. Not every time. Never has. Never will. To portray it as if it does is disingenuous and a little silly.

And I wonder, too, if my father and his Pathway contemporaries ever questioned the path they chose. The God they served. Did they ever despair that He exists? Question their faith? Or was it always cut and dried, black and white? Their children who left and they cut off cold, did it not tear at their hearts? The hard ruthless laws of shunning, did they ever doubt them? And wish it were not so?

Did they ever struggle with such issues? Or did their harsh cold facades truly reflect their hearts?

I like to think they struggled sometimes. Weren’t so sure of themselves. It would have been human. But I don’t know that. Because they never told us.

Maybe they thought it would show weakness. It wouldn’t have. To the contrary, it would have shown strength. And honesty.

And I think too, of my own grandfather, my father’s father, who I never met. Because he died when my father was young. What kind of man he really was, other than the vacant shallow depictions of a stern godly father and a deacon in the church.

There is so much more I will never know. How he looked. The man he was. In the community. As he labored in the fields. Among his children. The sound of his voice when he prayed the morning prayer. As he performed his deaconly duties and read Scripture aloud in church. What gave him joy. And what his quirks were.

And my great-grandfather, Christian Wagler, who took his own life at the age of thirty-six. Who was he? How did he look? Tall or short? The demons he faced, in the dark recesses of his tortured soul, that finally overwhelmed him. Why did he do it? How were his last days? His last morning? What were his last words?

I’ll never know, other than conjecturing, because no one ever honestly wrote it at the time. And I accept that. It’s who they were. Some things were just not done. Some layers not peeled back, the dark secrets carefully guarded. The old way, of the old generations.

But they left us poorer for our lack of knowledge. Of who they were. And who we are.

It seems only fair and right that from the silent shadows of this sheltered culture, a few have emerged, a few chroniclers who have observed carefully over the years. Who filed away the vivid scenes in their minds, and kept that knowledge quietly hidden in their hearts.

A few who now remember.

A few who will say, “This is what I saw and heard. These are the people involved and this is what they did. This is what I felt and thought. What I experienced. These are the words that were spoken, in this time and place. These are the battles that were waged, and this the aftermath. And this is what happened.”

A few who tell it like it was. In all its human drama. Fragmented, perhaps. With some mistakes. But honestly.

Every age, and every generation has its giants and its common people. Its common stories. And its epics. But the characters involved cannot be seen and will not be heard, and will be forgotten, if no one speaks their names.

And tells of them. As they were. In their struggles. Their triumphs. With their flaws. Their impossible visions. Their failures. And their shining accomplishments. As they marched across the stage on which we now play our own roles.

That’s why I write.

It came and went with little fanfare last Sunday. My forty-seventh birthday. Each year, I always think to myself that now I’m really getting old. But after the mental speed bump of dealing with the actual date, I move on and don’t think about it much. But forty-seven is getting awfully close to that “fifty” threshold.

My siblings and I have developed a tradition of calling the birthday person on his or her birthday. I heard from almost all my brothers and sisters, via text or phone. And thanks to my sister Maggie and her daughter Dorothy for the large box of healthy and delicious goodies. UPS’d to my door. You wouldn’t have needed to. But I really enjoyed it all, especially the tarts.

On Saturday night, I hosted my first cookout of the summer. Not for my birthday; I didn’t even mention it to my guests. Three families honored me with their presence. Keenan and Bora Rew. Steve and Ada Beiler. And Paul and Anne Marie Zook. And their kids.

I fired up the grill and cooked sausages, one of my favorite specialties. The ladies all brought salads and such, and generally kept everything running smoothly. When time came for dessert, Paul disappeared into the house and emerged with a mysterious box. I opened the lid and beheld what I’d consider to be the most unique and fascinat-ing birthday cake I’ve ever seen. Few things surprise me, but this, well, you could have knocked me over with a feather. These guys know how to push my buttons.



Somehow, the group had discovered it was my birthday. So Steve Beiler went back to my old blog, copied the picture and took it to a bakery. Sure, they said, no problem, they’d get it on. And they did. Not much of a cake eater, I helped myself to a liberal slice, covered with ice cream. It was delicious.

There is one good thing about having another birthday. Because each year, once my birthday passes, the football season is not far behind. And that’s a thing worth antici-pating, worth waiting for. The college season opens this weekend. Slurp, slurp.

And how about those Jets, snagging Bret Favre like that? Whooeee. I’m really not all that pumped about it, although he surely will be better than the guy he replaced. Favre is 38, positively ancient for an NFL quarterback. But he might still have a few good years left in him. We’ll see.

The dog and pony show of the Demoncrat National Convention unfolded before the world this week. The unveiling of the messiah. Not that I watched one second of it. Won’t watch the Republican Convention either. Both parties are corrupted to the core, like two thugs battling for control over the cowed populace of some hick town. Both parties seek dictatorship. Even with McCain’s choice of the exceptional Sarah Palin as his running mate, I have chosen not to participate this time. Maybe I never will again.



  1. I have my journals of Cookeville. Others have records of their stories & perspectives. Is mine the same as their’s? Of course not. So my perspective of Cookeville does not reflect the whole community. Not one single person can write the complete story of a group of people living in any given community. But we should be able to share our perspective publically without getting stabbed in the backside or be an observer from a distance like Ira.

    Comment by Katie Troyer — August 29, 2008 @ 7:11 pm

  2. I just wanted to sincerely thank you, Ira. I thank you, on behalf of your nephews and nieces, for giving us such an illustrious picture of who the Waglers are and were. Only my mother has come close to giving me such informative and mesmerizing accounts of my kin.

    By the way, I am now at the Bible College I told you about. I think it’s going to be great here. Some friends here read this blog religously. Really, you are the uncle to have.

    Comment by Gideon Yutzy — August 29, 2008 @ 9:51 pm

  3. I will vote for the ticket with Sarah Palin on it in spite of the scum bag at the top of the ticket. It’s not an easy choice but for me, it’s the right choice.

    Best to ya!

    Ira’s response: Why vote for a man you define as a “scum bag?”

    Comment by RagPicker — August 29, 2008 @ 10:23 pm

  4. It’s either the scumbag McCain or, God forbid, Hussein Obama which is ten times worse!

    Comment by Rudy Yutzy — August 30, 2008 @ 12:05 am

  5. Good thought, Rudy!

    Comment by Wilma Wagler — August 30, 2008 @ 3:41 pm

  6. Anyone who doesn’t know who to vote for should go on the Amish chatline. Just maybe they know about Sarah Palin already. I’m not sure they even read the papers.

    I hope “Why I Write” gets circulated. It is well written. Maybe you will go down in history as the one who gave a voice to those who had none before. And that would be a noble thing.

    On another subject, Herman Gingerich’s Richards burried a stillborn baby on August 24, at Nappanee, Ind., according to the Budget. Thot that may be of interest to all the Bloomfielders.

    Happy Labor Day to all. We will have our regular church picnic, except this year Wm. Hershberger plans to roast the hog.

    Comment by Rachel — August 30, 2008 @ 7:43 pm

  7. And football season has arrived!

    I can’t believe Mom sent you my tarts. I’m fairly certain she got the mailing address confused….

    Much love-

    Comment by Janice — August 30, 2008 @ 11:50 pm

  8. As a Packers fan, it’s time to say good by to Favre. He might be old, but he can still play. I will be rooting for the Jets when not watching the Packers play.

    Comment by Titus — September 1, 2008 @ 11:26 am

  9. My husband forwarded your site to me a couple weeks ago and I’ve been wanting to leave a comment so today I’m making myself have a lazy day as a person can go at high gear only so long and still get top production. (That sentence was too long, but it was a complete thought!)

    Anyway, I’ve read with great interest everything you posted. After my husband, Lester, an ordained Old-Order Amish preacher started preaching the Gospel instead of the traditions and ordnung we got excommunicated.

    I loved to write and would write for the Pathway Papers. One story I wrote made the feature- front page story of the Young Companion and I don’t think you could say that was one of those stories you were talking about as that story did not have a happy ending where everybody repented and everybody lived happily ever after. The name of the story was,” The Way He Treats His Mother”.

    I am not one of those “weeping willow” kind of women but when I read your account of your divorce, I could’ve cried. I wanted to ask so many questions about how and why, it just seems too sad and unbelieveable, but I guess you wrote all you want to share.

    When I think of myself as an Amish preacher’s wife I have to smile at how strongly I feel about our United States of America.

    I homeschool our children and I love American History. Everybody who wants to enjoy the freedoms of this country need to know what our forefathers sacrificed for those freedoms and be willing to make some sacrifices of our own for future generations. We need to participate one way or another as I’m a firm believer in the following Quote: “The only thing necessary for triumph of evil – is for good men to do nothing.” -Edmund Burke

    Isn’t that how Clinton got elected? Because so many people were so discouraged they just didn’t vote? Let’s hope we don’t make the same mistake twice. Who would be someone that you would vote for?

    I have really enjoyed your writings and think we need to leave these memories in writing for those following us. Keep up the good work. You have a real talent with words.

    Be Blessed.


    Comment by Mrs. Lester Graber (Rebecca) — September 1, 2008 @ 8:01 pm

  10. I think the cold hard laws pretty much overrule everything in the Amish world.

    Comment by Lavern Yoder — September 1, 2008 @ 10:19 pm

  11. “The Beginning of Time” fits well with “Why I Write.” I’m glad I read them near enough to each other to still remember the former. And I’m glad you wrote these articles that accentuate your respect for and desire to record what happens, who we are, and how we’re affected. I’ve taken to writing lately. Nothing to write home about; just my own thoughts on my own life. Trying to find and put together the pieces of a puzzle that that has been gathering dust in the closet for too long. So it’s encouraging to look at a puzzle that’s already put together pretty well.

    Comment by Eric — April 10, 2013 @ 2:15 pm

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