On September 16th 2013, the Amish owned and operated general store in my community caught fire and burned beyond repair. Though I was working in a town two hours away, I was made aware of the tragedy almost immediately. Friends texted first to report smoke, then fire and finally that the store would be a total loss. The news left me feeling off balance, and I found it difficult to concentrate for the remainder of the training. I was deeply saddened and overwhelmed with feelings of helplessness.
The drive home was excruciating. I was anxious and overcome with the desire to help my neighbors. But what could I do for the Amish? I would not be allowed to help the men and it would not be my place to stand with the women. When I finally arrived at the store the light of day was beginning to fade. I watched as the Amish men, faces drawn and clearly fatigued from the long difficult day, sort and remove debris. The Amish women gathered around makeshift tables, chatted with one another, and served the hungry workers from the multitude of covered dishes.
I lingered along the side of the road for some time. As tendrils of smoke continued to rise from the wreckage, and horses and buggies splashed through the muddied parking lot, I was, as I often am, awestruck by the Amish community. The Amish have held onto values that are often forgotten or inconvenient in our busy modern world. My most cherished is that they understand that a neighbor is more than just someone that lives next door. They, as a community, are committed to one another. They help each other, and occasionally, their non Amish neighbors, in both good times and bad. But, my, how they shine in the darkest moments!
Sometimes memory fades, but I believe I will always remember a day in late February of 2011. It was cold, dreary, and snow was lightly falling. It was the end of one chapter of my life, and the beginning of the next. I sat at the old formica table in the kitchen at my folks’ house, still numb, baffled, and bewildered by the events of the previous week. My friend, Cindy, had come from New York as soon as she heard the news that both of my parents had passed away on the same day. She was sitting next to me addressing envelopes, as I wrote personal messages of thanks to all the people whom had so generously sent plants, flowers and gifts of money in memory of my mother and father.
As we worked quietly, I became aware of the sound of many footsteps crunching on the new fallen snow on the deck. My brother, Cindy, and I went to the front door and were astonished to find thirty-five Amish children of various ages and three of their teachers. Their heavy black woolen coats, hats, and mittens were flecked with pure white snowflakes, and their faces were flushed red from winter cold air made even colder by the 2 mile ride from the school house on the open horse drawn wagon. We listened as one of the teachers explained that the children had been discussing what had happened to my parents, and how they wanted to do something to help. Their wish was that we might find comfort and hope in two songs they had chosen to sing for us.
Clouds of moisture danced about the faces of the children as warm breath met frigid air. Their voices rose and broke the silence of this wintry day, and, in doing so, shattered the wall that I had begun to build about my heart. I was completely rapt by the cold, snow dampened faces of living angels, singing off key. There are no words to describe how deeply and profoundly touched I was by this selfless act. These children did not know me, yet they understood my loss. They came as neighbors to lend a hand in a time of great pain and sorrow expecting nothing in return. They did, indeed, bring comfort that day and perhaps, for all the days of my life.
I owe my Amish neighbors a debt of gratitude that I may never be able to repay. I could do nothing to help when the store burned down. But, I will keep looking, and listening, and watching. And maybe, just maybe, one day I will have the opportunity to be a good neighbor, to bring hope on a hopeless day, or give comfort when none can be found.
Thanks to Carmel Steffen for Editorial Assistance
© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to
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