Thursday, October 05, 2006
These are my people
When I heard about the shootings of the Amish schoolgirls, I knew they were in Pennsylvania, but it was only yesterday that I realized that the community is located in Lancaster County. I was already shocked by the shootings, but hearing the name "Lancaster County" just stabbed me right to the core.
I know that name very well, even though I've never been there. My own Mennonite ancestors settled there – one of them built a mill there – before they moved to the Kitchener-Waterloo area of Ontario, whence one lone man journeyed to Alberta and became my great-grandfather at the beginning of the 20th century. Until six years ago, I knew almost nothing about my predecessors, except three things: 1) in government birth records, my family is officially designated as "Swiss;" 2) my grandfather's middle name was "Weber," which was his mom's maiden name; and 3) the family originally settled in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, before my branch moved up to Ontario.
I now know all of my direct ancestral connections back to 1737, when a large number of Mennonites came to Lancaster County from Switzerland, and settled there together. The various branches had dispersed a lot since then, as have their theological beliefs as well as their degrees of involvement in the world. But I cannot imagine that the community at Nickel Mines, PA, was so completely independent and separate that they don't descend from those original groups of Mennonites who settled that area.
Which means – those are my relatives. Very very distantly, and multiple times removed, but they are my cousins, even so. It doesn't mean I wouldn't have cared about them if we weren't related, but there's a sudden element of "family" in my head, now, that I never expected. I think of those dear little girls, and suddenly I see my own nieces when they were little, or my cousins' daughters when they were. These are my cousins' daughters.
What makes things worse is that this community believed – and will still believe – several things that are beautiful and admirable, things we should strive for in our own lives. As this CBC article describes (Funerals for Amish girls shot at school begin), the people of Nickel Mines, PA, believe you should not answer violence with violence, but with love and forgiveness. Gandhi would probably recognize those beliefs, don't you think? They are very powerful. And hard to live up to, but these people try.
Another belief these people hold is that members of a community help each other in times of trouble. For this reason, they don't have health insurance. For most health issues, this community attitude stands them in good stead: they live in health and illness, taking care of each other, every family helping out all the other families, and receiving help in turn when they need it. This is what community is supposed to be, and it's something the rest of us seem to have lost, for the most part.
But because of this belief – and because of the intrusion of our sick and violent world into theirs – they now have several little girls in the hospital, critically wounded. And they HAVE NO HEALTH INSURANCE.
There is no way this community is going to be able to afford the costs of care for these children as they recover – if they recover. No matter how much the families pull together to help each other.
Except. Mennonites of other branches of belief are also pulling together to help them. They may be separated by bits of theology and custom and involvement in the world, but they know these people are still their family. Just like they are mine. The Mennonite Central Committee are gathering funds to send to their brothers and sisters in distress, on this website: MDS and MCC offer support to Amish community in wake of shooting.
This is not only restricted to Mennonite contributors, however. Anyone can donate. I'd like to see non-Mennonites from all over the place help out these people, to show them that in the end, we think they're right – it's best not to reward hatred with hatred, or violence with violence. And maybe to show them that we in the outside world are not all bad, and even if they feel they can't live in the society with us, we are still, after all, part of their human family. It would be a great thing to share with them, don't you think?
10/05/2006 11:24:00 AM [+]