May 3, 2013

A New Road Rising…

Category: News — Ira @ 6:30 pm


In my eager mind, the great shining vistas of distant horizons gleamed
and beckoned. A world that would fulfill the deep yearning, the nebulous
shifting dreams of a hungry, driven youth. And it would be mine, all of it,
to pluck from the forbidden tree and taste and eat…

—Ira Wagler: Growing Up Amish

It’s not quite the same. A lot of water has flowed under the bridge since that night almost exactly thirty-four years ago when I got up and walked away from the only world I had ever known. And it wasn’t that big a deal back then, even, if you look at where I was going. To a desolate ranch in the Sand Hills of Nebraska. Nah, the big deal wasn’t where I was going. It was where I was coming from.

And that’s pretty much how I feel about tomorrow, when I’ll head out to places I have never seen before, places I have rarely imagined, even in my dreams. Because they were just so far out there, especially to a guy who’s pretty set in his ways, and finally content staying close to familiar boundaries. I look back at that seventeen-year-old kid clutching a black duffle bag, walking determinedly out the drive and down the road into the darkness. And I feel some of that old stirring within me. There’s a new world coming right up. A new road rising before me leading to new places, new things, new experiences. The thing is, I’m not seventeen anymore. I’m fifty-one.

It’s such a minor thing, to so many. A hop and skip over the pond, to all the experienced world travelers who have seen places I will never see, and done things I will never do. It’s not minor to me, though. It’s a big, big deal. I have never been to Europe. And it’s a little scary, to think of stepping out that far from the world I know. I’m pretty provincial, when it comes right down to it. Pretty happy to stay within a comfortable range of my little home in New Holland, PA, and to live life there as it comes at me.

Everything has come together well for this foray, I have to say. I’m packed and ready. How I got to this point is a bit of a mystery. There was so much I didn’t know about traveling overseas. Like a child in the woods, I just kind of stumbled along in good faith. And people told me things. Hey, you have to get online and fill in your passport info, for your plane ticket. Hey, you have to buy your Swiss Rail Pass here, in the US. You can’t get it over there. And on and on, seemed like. I think I have it all together now. I better have. There’s no more time for unpleasant discoveries.

I loathe flying. And it’s not just the TSA goons. It’s the compressed, recycled air on a seven-plus hour overnight plane ride that makes me flinch. I wish there were a bridge or tunnel to Europe. I’d drive whatever time it took in my truck to get there. But, of course, such a thing exists only in a fantasy world. In the real world, there are only two options. Plane or ship. And last time I looked, ship travel was way too slow and expensive. So the plane it is. A big, big plane with three rows of seats. I’ve never been in such a place. I’ll cross myself when I step onto that thing. Guarantee you that.

And, of course, right on cue, I came down with a savage head cold last Friday. I felt it creeping in and tried to pretend it wasn’t happening. I rarely, rarely catch a cold. Maybe once a year. Or less. Never had one, all winter. But now I do. I hunkered down and gobbled pharmaceutical pills by the handful, stuff I normally abhor. When you gotta breathe, you gotta breathe. I’ll take what it takes, to do that. I ingested huge amounts of vitamins and Superfood, and drank shots of Super Tonic, a home-brewed mixture of awful tasting stuff that my old friend Anna Beiler Lapp gave me. Sour and bitter, oh, yes, it was. But she claimed it would burn out the germs, and from the taste of it, I find no reason whatsoever to doubt her claims. That, and the fact that the stuff actually worked.

And other than the cold, which has receded a good bit, I’d say my state of mind is this. I’m quietly nervous and very excited. I’m going to Europe. It’s just mind-boggling to me. It’s really happening. Way back when, I wrote Sabrina. When it gets close, I’ll contact you, to see what the weather’s like over there and what clothes I should pack. We’ve been emailing back and forth. Seems like they’ve had a late cold spring, just like we’ve had here. Step aside, global warming. Global cooling is more like it. The weather alarmists know that, which is why they’ve quietly been shifting their talk to terms like “climate change.” But that’s a bunny trail. What I meant to say is that northern Germany is having a cold, late spring.

It’s always an honor, to be asked to come and speak at any University. At the local level, and at the international level. It really is. And I’ll leave it at that, because to me that’s not the most important thing. It’s the people I’ve met and will meet, it’s the experience of just living life as it comes at you and walking forward into it, that’s what all this means to me. If you focus too much on the reason you are somewhere, you’ll lose your gratitude for just being there. The honor will pass soon after it comes. They all do. And it detracts from the experience if you focus on the honor, instead of just living it. Sure, it’s a big deal. And I will always recognize that. But it’s not the the most important thing, in this moment or in any other. I try to keep a firm grasp on that perspective, always.

It’s looking like the trip will come down in two very distinct phases. Week one and week two. My time with Sabrina and her University students is pretty much scheduled. They’re basically taking care of me, putting me up in a hotel. There will be people there, to tell me what’s going on and when. And to show me the town and the surrounding areas. I’ll know what’s going on. I’ll do the book talks, and take part in a couple of classroom discussions. A few people at that little spot in the world will know who I am, and I’m feeling their welcome before I even head out. I’m very much looking forward to meeting them. I’m looking forward to hanging out with friends.

Next Thursday is Ascension Day, a holy day I grew up to respect. And Sabrina told me, it’s a national holiday in Germany. That day, she suggested, they could show me around the area. And the next day I would leave for Switzerland. Except she arranged one more stop, before I got there. At Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz. Would I consider it? She had asked me. They won’t be able to come up with a stipend for your talk, but they’d love to have you, and they’d put you up for the night in a motel. Well, let me think. An offer to speak about my book in the town where the printing press of the western world was born? I’d pay for that privilege. Of course, yes, I emailed her. And earlier this week, they sent me the poster, to show me that it was no dream, that I was really going there.

And so that’s scheduled. Germany is pretty much all scheduled, all the way to the day I leave it. For Switzerland. And there, there is no schedule at all. I’ll go from a comfortable place to an unknown one. That makes me a little nervous. It’s a world I’ve never seen before. And I’m walking into it, almost blind. I know one family that I’ll be spending a day with. Otherwise, I’m a wanderer with no plans, a stranger in a strange land. With no guidebook, either. Yeah, I know places I want to see. I have my Swiss Rail Pass. But I have secured no lodging, because I don’t want to commit to any place at any time. I’ll get there when I get there, and it will be what it is.

Last weekend I was chatting with my good friend, John Schmid, who was in the area to sing at the annual Gospel Express fundraiser. I don’t usually go around such big crowds, but John was there this year, so I went. Afterward, we talked and he asked about my plans in Switzerland. I’m just meandering, I told him. Don’t really have any connections. Besides, I don’t want to bother people. If I bug them, they’ll feel obligated to put me up. John laughed. “That’s not how I see it,” he said. “You’re a little more shy than I am. I usually just figure people are going to be glad to see me. And put up with me.” I laughed, too. Yeah, we are different that way, I said. I didn’t think about it until later, but I should have told him. You sing to them when you get there. You got your songs to offer. I got no songs.

But I’ve thought a good bit about what he said. So I guess I’ll throw this out there, to see what happens. If you know anyone in Switzerland who would be willing to meet and chat with me for a bit, over coffee or a meal, or even put me up for a night, tell them to contact me at my email address, the one on the Contact Me page. Don’t send me their email address for me to contact them. I’m a little shyer than John. I don’t figure people are necessarily going to be eager to put up with me. So I ain’t gonna bug nobody. I’ll accept invitations, that’s pretty much it. At least the ones I can.

From what I hear, it’s pretty expensive to get connected online over there. It’s not like here, where there’s free wireless in every motel and cafe. So I’ll have to see how that works out. I hope to post pics on Facebook now and then, from where I am. And, of course, check my email. (I do have several emergency contacts in Switzerland, friends of friends. So if anyone gets an email from me claiming I’ve been robbed and need money, that means I’ve been hacked. Ignore it.) And I seriously doubt I’ll post a blog from there in two weeks. I’ll be writing, but I think it’ll work best to wait until I get back to post on here again. So it might be three or four weeks. We’ll see.

Tonight feels a little like the night before I walked out the lane at two in the morning with a duffle bag, thirty-four years ago. I got my bags packed. (Well, I’m working on it, I mean.) I’m as ready as I’ll ever be, I suppose. There’s a big difference from that first departure, though. I’m not sneaking out in the darkness. I’m leaving in broad daylight instead. And I’m telling the world before I go. But still, I can feel a bit of what was inside that seventeen-year-old kid back then.

And tonight I’m feeling something more, something I can’t say I’ve ever felt before. If I did, it was a long, long time ago. A couple of days ago, I was at work on a busy morning, trying to get stuff done before I leave. My cell phone rang. Unknown number, from Canada. I answered. It was my father, calling from Aylmer. I got up and walked out to the warehouse, so we could talk in private.

He was just calling to see when I’m leaving for Germany, Dad said. Oh. I said. I’m leaving Saturday evening, flying all night. I’ll get over to Hamburg around mid day on Sunday. And we just talked, visited a bit. He asked about the book, how it was doing. It’s taking me to Germany, I told him. He seemed impressed.

“Do you think they’ll understand your German?” he asked. I doubt it, I said. I’ll try it on them. We’ll see what happens. We both chuckled together. And chatted a bit more. “When are you coming up to see us?” He asked. Sometime in June, I told him. I want to come over a weekend. We closed it down, then. “Well, I hope you have a safe trip to Germany,” he said, almost wistfully.

I thanked him for calling, and we hung up. And I just stood there. Absorbed the moment, absorbed the emotions going on inside me. I’m still absorbing that moment when my father wished me well as I was leaving on a journey he could never take because of who he chose to be. All my life, I have yearned to hear such words of support from him as I was going to places he never went. And now he spoke them. It’s like I’m stepping onto a new road, a road I’ve never seen before.

I’ve been to a lot of places in my life. Set out on a lot of journeys where you just walked to keep walking. Traumatic excursions, some of them, of every imaginable type. Beautiful and breathtaking, others of them, on roads that led to destinations I could never have imagined. And on this road, at this moment, I know not what journeys may yet come.

But I do know there will never be another departure quite like this one.



  1. Beautiful- I’m on my third Kleenex- have a more than wonderful trip, Ira.

    Comment by Pizzalady — May 3, 2013 @ 6:49 pm

  2. Safe travels Ira and enjoy the trip. I enjoyed both Germany and Switzerland. Will be anxious to hear about your travels when you return.


    Comment by marge nistler — May 3, 2013 @ 6:51 pm

  3. Everyone of your devoted fans will be sitting on that plane with you sending our well wishes and blessing, so you won’t be alone in spirit. Tell that guy next to you to move over because all your friends are sitting in that seat next to you. Being on a plane at night is just like being in a motel. I have waited in hospital waiting rooms that long. It’s just there are no walls dividing the rooms. Lay back and get some sleep or at least try and the time will go faster. I usually take a camera with me when I am nervous about traveling and try to take the most professional pictures of scenery I can to keep me occupied. Have a good trip.

    Comment by Carol Ellmore — May 3, 2013 @ 6:58 pm

  4. I so understand your emotions after hearing from your dad. It will stay with you always. Now have a safe and wonderful trip. Have never been to Germany but Switzerland is beautiful. Enjoy each moment…

    Comment by Marietta Couch — May 3, 2013 @ 7:09 pm

  5. I hope you have a great time in Germany.

    Comment by George Moore — May 3, 2013 @ 7:19 pm

  6. My husband’s sister lent her book to me,… “Growing Up Amish”. It was good to read some ‘real life’ stuff that goes on in the Amish world. I love reading the Amish novels written by people who are actually acquainted with the life style of the Amish. I hesitate reading novels by new authors who I don’t know, not knowing if they make stuff up as they go along or not.

    Thank you for these writings. I print them out….read them, then plan on giving them to my husband’s sister. She had a stroke, so presently, besides having a difficult time speaking, she also can’t read yet, or even being read to, she has a hard time grasping. So I will save these for her, hoping and praying that she will get to the place where she can speak, and read again. We’ve been praying for her that she gets that all back. Would love to read another book by you. :)

    Comment by Luanna — May 3, 2013 @ 7:46 pm

  7. God speed and be careful out there in the big world.

    What you wrote about your father hit home. I hope someday I will hear those words of encouragement and acceptance from my family. You received a huge blessing.

    Comment by Rosie S — May 3, 2013 @ 8:58 pm

  8. What a gracious post. How happy! And how sad…
    My eyes stung a little, and so did my nose.

    Comment by Rhonda — May 3, 2013 @ 9:43 pm

  9. Have a great trip, Ira! I talked to a wheat harvester tonight who knows your old boss, Ben Walter! Gute reisen!

    Comment by John Schmid — May 3, 2013 @ 10:43 pm

  10. I am excited for you. Looking forward to read about
    Germany, Switzerland and your experiences.
    It is wonderful that your father’s call provided you validation.
    Enjoy your trip. BFN

    Comment by Martha Staton — May 3, 2013 @ 11:02 pm

  11. Oh, Ira. How wonderful. How absolutely wonderful. As if God were blessing you over and over and over so clearly and lovingly. Showing you how much you mean to Him. Good things, Ira. All gifts from your God.

    Each day I will ask God to guide you, watch over you, and allow you to see and feel His presence in all that you do. He will be by your side throughout your entire trip. He promised He would never leave us. This is truly a spiritual experience, where you stand breathless, absorbing the goodness of life. Almost as if walking in a dream. You were born for such a time as this. Just be you and all will go well.

    “It’s such a minor thing to so many.” Are you forgetting that you were invited to Germany, all expenses paid? This is not about you taking a trip like some tourist. You were sought out. They want to hear what you have to say. You, Ira Wagler. Embrace it, savor it, and feel how special YOU are.

    Yes, your father is proud of you. He’s probably bubbling over with pride thinking about his son and the many things he’s achieved. And you know he relates to you. How can he not? He’s also a writer. And you are his son. He blessed you with his phone call. He placed his hand upon your head and he blessed you in his own way. His son. Ira.

    You don’t have a song to sing? Pish! You have stories. Lots of stories. And you have a gift in expressing your stories. A way of arranging words and painting pictures and making people feel welcome with your stories. Shine, Ira. Shine!

    Now, on big sisterly matters. If you find your cold is hindering you buy a vaporizer and let it mist throughout the night. You will wake up feeling good. If things get to you on the plane, (man, that’s a big plane) pray, read, watch a movie, listen to music, chat with your neighbor, go over tourist pamplets about Switzerland and jot down the places you want to go, sleep, write, mentally talk to yourself as if you are talking to a friend. If you get the feeling of being smothered, do some self-talk. “I’m ok. Everything is ok. I’m 51 and I can do this and enjoy it.” Self-talk helps me a lot when I feel panicky or revert back into the child mode. Like when the airplane goes up and comes down. My child’s mind says I’m going to crash. My grown up mind comforts the little girl and thinks reasonably.

    “Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.” -Booker T. Washington

    Have a blast!

    Comment by Francine — May 3, 2013 @ 11:16 pm

  12. Ira—-Have a wonderful and safe trip. We are so happy for you.
    Having your father call, must have been a huge blessing.

    Our prayers are with you as you explore “this new world”

    Barry and June.

    Comment by June Kinsey — May 3, 2013 @ 11:29 pm

  13. God-speed, Ira. Have a wonderful trip!

    Comment by Glywn Chase — May 4, 2013 @ 12:54 am

  14. Welcome to Europe, it is a peninsular off Asia, it is not really a true continent. It is part of Asia where the White peoples live.

    You could visit my friends in Germany. They would be happy to see you.

    Enjoyed the post thanks

    Comment by james emmans — May 4, 2013 @ 8:29 am

  15. Tonight, while you are over the Atlantic, I will also be aloft at 38,000 ft. between Rio de Janeiro and New York. That’s because I’m a pilot and working tonight. I’ll be thinking of you and praying for you, Ira.

    I live in Carlisle, PA, where I know you spent a couple years.

    I have benefitted from your writings about your relationship to God and your description of this journey we are all on during our earthly pilgrimage.

    You have contributed enormously to practical Christian thinking and I am glad to have given away many copies of your book.

    Thank you for sharing your life with us. God bless you as you bless others in Germany and Switzerland.

    Comment by Tom — May 4, 2013 @ 11:25 am

  16. Ira, I loved reading this new message. I also enjoyed reading all the comments from your readers. Have a safe trip. I’m looking forward to reading all about it!

    Comment by Jane M Goforth — May 4, 2013 @ 11:33 am

  17. Ira, I am sure you will meet distant relatives in Germany and in Switzerland, how exciting! In a way, you are reuniting with your family from centuries ago who made the reverse trip–and not in a big plane. I bet they were as excited and anxious as you are. My prayers are with you as you visit the lands where your ancestors’ lives and spirituality took root. They must all be proud of their American son coming home to see their world and walk their paths.

    Comment by Sherida Yoder — May 4, 2013 @ 1:01 pm

  18. So glad for that call from your father. It’s becoming quite a journey indeed.

    Comment by LeRoy — May 4, 2013 @ 3:43 pm

  19. my wife makes Super Tonic. It is disgusting, horrible, incredibly vile stuff. What sickness could possibly be worse than that?

    Comment by jason yutzy — May 4, 2013 @ 4:37 pm

  20. Ah, Ira, I wish I knew someone in Switzerland I could contact for you but I’m lucky to know a total of one or two people living outside the U.S., even ( and thats only because a girl I went to school with moved overseas someplace — not that I even speak with her anymore, anyway ). Me, I haven’t had ancestors that I know of living in Switzerland ( yup, Beilers and Fishers and such ) since probably the 19th century; not too much of a help to you now, though.

    You sure made me cry ( not in a bad way! ) writing about your conversation with your father. I thought you had him more or less pegged when you wrote of him in your book as one who knew the blood running through you, as one who knew the sheer force of your will — a will and inner strength that he likely also possessed ( and I’d guess still does, even if perhaps tempered by time ). And yeah, I think maybe you’ve got the proof now you were right about him once ( or more ) having at least imagined taking another road in life, living outside the box that is much of Amish culture – not that you ever had any doubt about that. As you are a brilliant man, strong-willed and such, it’s likely your father’d possess many of those same gifts and intrinsic traits. Well, I think so, anyway.

    I’m just glad for you that you have gotten to and just continue to get to experience a life without that inflexible boundary made up of tradition, culture, and centuries-old religion. Not to say it’s bad, it’s just not something for everyone, and surely not for you. And I’m just plain happy that your dad and you can now speak of such things as your trip.

    You know, I’ve heard a story or two of either German nationals or fluent American German-speakers ( Englisch ones ) understanding even Pa Dutch pretty well, maybe depending on the dialect of the dialect of Pa Dutch. Can’t recall anything more, now.

    I don’t blame you a bit for being a bit nervous about your flight; thinking of any flight scares me, and I’ve not flown in 12 years. But I’m what they call a “wuss” I suppose, ha! My maternal grandfather was a pilot, WWII then commercially for Pan Am back in the 40’s and 50’s, and he always said his best flights were the ones overseas. He specifically request and chose those sorts of routes his entire career as a commercial pilot.

    Glad your cold’s gotten some better; the same seems my fate. Always was, even in school. Big test the next day? I’d have a cold by 5 pm the evening before. Going to visit a friend I’ve not seen in ages? Yeah, I’ll wake up sick. Glad the remedy worked! Mine own “remedy” is a combination of Echinacea ( which doesn’t truly help the cold but rather inflammation if what I studied was right ), maximum dose Vitamin C for whatever time is safe (gradually reducing it ), and those red and white peppermint candies ( only the sugar free ones made with real peppermint and nothing artificial — also the kind I feed horses, but anyway). I know zinc’s supposed to help, too ( my grandma’s cure ), but come on, even in lozenge form, zinc’s a metal — I’d rather have the whole miserable cold than the aftertaste of those pills, teas, or lozenges they sell in pharmacies. ( ***And, hey anyone seeing this! I’m most definitely not a doctor or anything so please don’t take that remedy stuff for anything more than the household, non-doctor-approved cold “remedy” of a woman who has absolutely zero medical training, all right?*** )

    Am hoping you have a great 7+ hour flight, that your luggage arrives when you do. Am hoping you also have a great trip, that your lectures dont make you too nervous ( says me, the girl who got so nervous during her 3L year of law school, she nearly failed the mock trial course, even though public speaking’s never bothered me much ). and you meet some amazing and kind people along the way. Your “road taken” has sure taken you for a ride, up, down, around, and to so many places – mental and physical, and into the worlds of so many amazing people. And, I hope you have FUN along this new experience, too.

    ( And Ira, may God be travelling along with you — as I’m sure he is, whether you’re at home, traveling, or soon-to-be-abroad, anyway. )

    [ from Sadie, the non-licensed and non-practicing – of course – attorney who is merely a devoted reader of your blog, not even someone you know! But just felt like writing to you today, I suppose. ]

    Comment by Sadie — May 4, 2013 @ 9:35 pm

  21. Ira, you did it again.I cried . I know a 65 year old little boy who longed to have that phone call, and didnt get it. Hey I am excited that you have this oppertunity. When in Switzerland I will highly reccomend you visit Gimmelwald. Rick Steves describes it as a community in the rough. There is nothing but air between Gimmelwald and the rock face of the Jungfrau,a mile or two across. Dont get this mixed up with Grindelwald. The traffic free village of Gimmelwald hangs nonchalantly on the edge of a cliff high above Lauterbrunnen Valley,30 minutes south of Interlaken by car or train. By the way Rick Steves book Europe Through The Back Door, is excellant.

    Comment by Rachel Hochstetler — May 5, 2013 @ 8:21 am

  22. Have a fantastic trip!

    Comment by Anita B — May 6, 2013 @ 12:25 pm

  23. Ira, I am excited about you getting to go to Germany.
    So thankful that God knows the very needs of our being. Having your father call & wish you a good trip.

    God Bless and looking forward to reading about your trip to Germany and Switzerland.


    Comment by Linda Morris — May 6, 2013 @ 7:11 pm

  24. Loved this post, as I do all of them. May God bless you on your journey. So glad you will trod the soil of your ancestors. Wonderful to hear of your father’s phone call. Look forward to reading all about you trip on your return.

    Comment by Rosanna — May 7, 2013 @ 2:07 pm

  25. Thanks for the inspirational reading today..I’ve learned a lot about a culture of which I didn’t really know much before. I really enjoyed it. I hope you’ll enjoy the rest of your time here and in Switzerland. Thanks for heading out here. Get back home safe!

    Comment by Lisa — May 7, 2013 @ 4:13 pm

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