Precarious Kites
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Columns About Hope in Tragedy > Awe is Too Easy
Awe is Too Easy

Grace-Notes #40 – to run on Sunday 10/22/06

Natalie Costanza-Chavez
Grace-Notes, The Coloradoan

Amish Awe is Too Easy

A well respected newspaper editor asked me why I hadn’t done a column about the Amish people forgiving the man who shot their children.

Then my husband asked.

Then a friend.

So I tried to open up the jumble of my own reactions and emotions, including the stunned, awed, frozen “huh?” that still threatened to knock me upside the head when I thought of what happened in that little school house.

A deranged man entered an Amish school, sent the boys away, lined up and shot ten girls, and then killed himself.

The Amish people, within days – with five of their children dead and five hospitalized and hovering between life and death – spoke of forgiveness for the dead man and embraced his surviving wife and children.

So, the first mistake I made was trying to picture myself in their shoes. I couldn’t do it – I stopped myself. I next concluded that I could never react as forgivingly as they did.

They invited the killer’s wife to the funerals of her dead husband’s victims.

They did not solicit charity, but agreed to accept the thousands and thousands of donated dollars for hospital costs only if a matching fund was set up for the children of the shooter.

Then my curtain of awe sets in. I am a bystander watching respectfully from a distance as this faithful group of religious people gracefully lives out their lives away from the rest of us. They want it that way.

Yet awe is too easy. It allows us to duck and move on with our regular lives, avoiding the hard images, the hard conversations, the hard gut-effort of thinking about change.

Awe removes us from the Amish. It puts up a wall and places them conveniently on the other side. It makes them other, not us, mysterious, unimaginable, weird. Yes, they have chosen to live their lives removed from our mainstream American culture, but does that remove our responsibility to react with outrage and action when an aspect of our culture causes mayhem in their lives?

Is this an opportunity to see the possibilities of – and responsibility for – not only individual gentleness, peacefulness, and forgiveness, but of organized institutional and political change?

Are we taking care of our people? Are we proud of our culture? What are we demanding?

What of our churches and religious organizations? Are they intent on dividing people over volatile wedge issues spilled over from politicians? Or are they practicing what they preach from their holiest of books?

What of individuals? When faced with great call, individuals can rise and answer.

Has there been a call? Should there be a call?

What if we did less hammering at each other with money, rhetoric, fear mongering, media, spies, lies and misconstrues and more problem solving, compromising, integrating, accepting?

What if?

The Amish are not so different from us. And, what the Amish have done is not, by any means, finished. To assume that it is would be to diminish their grief and the hard work of healing yet to come. But they have clearly chosen their path; they know exactly where they are headed. As they begin their journey, they have allowed us a glimpse of how they collectively live out their faith and convictions.

What of ours? Do we have collective convictions? How are they serving us? Our girls? Our boys? Our poor and sick and uneducated? Our veterans? Our elderly?

The Amish remind us of how very much we should be capable of enduring, of how much we should be capable of forgiveness and peacefulness and the absence of hate.

We can’t underestimate ourselves by holding the Amish up as wholly different.

They are, in the foundational ways, just like us. But, the Amish seem to know what they want: I’m not sure we do.

With effort, energy, and the willingness to wake up each morning striving honestly for answers, we can begin a new conversation about what kind of people we want to be and how we want to live together. Then we can imagine how our voices can gather unified, sound unified and rise toward change.