Yesterday I was flipping through a Class of 2011 Yearbook and came across a page titled Tatoos and Piercings. Plastered on the page were actual tatoos and piercings of the HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS! Several thoughts flashed through my mind. First, how are high school students even old enough to obtain tatoos and piercings (neither of which I am opposed to on ADULTS!)? Second, was thank the lord my girls have the opportunity to opt out of this rite of passage called High School, where pop culture has clearly influenced children in such a permanent way.
I wonder if as I was interacting with the Amish in Pennsylvania last weekend that same thought was thought of me. We are all influenced by the culture in which we live to some degree. We call Lilah our little fashionista because she acts as my personal stylist! Grace is my techy kid who can operate my cell phone better than I can! We must seem as radical to the Amish, as high school students flaunting their multiple facial piercings seems to me.
While I was fresh off my trip to Pennsylvania, I read a memoir of an artist living in Berkeley and New York who took time out of her life to visit with Amish families after falling in love with their quilts. She defines herself as an artist which is crucial to understanding this book since she seeks to learn more about the art of the Amish and they Amish do not define themselves as artists.
I had mixed feelings about this book. It took me a week of reflecting to form an opinion. Based on the reviews from Amazon readers, there is no way I would have picked up this book online or even at the library. This is a memoir, just a piece of a woman’s life captured in writing. It is not a biography or even a study of the Amish but information was shared that helped me understand the Amish better.
I know know that they go barefoot to feel a deeper connection to the Earth. The are grounded in their faith and they are grounded in their care of the soil. It reminded me of yoga. You practice yoga barefoot so that you can experience a feeling of awareness in your feet. What am I grounded to? What anchors me in my life? Do I have enough faith to take the teachings literally, discarding all modern temptations that come through electricity (such as this laptop) and focus my entire being on living my faith?
Also notable was the running of the Amish home. In the Amish religion there is a clear delineation of responsibility based on gender. Simply put, the women are homemakers and the men are farmers. The author looked at this with disdain since she was almost proud not be a homemaker and domestic in her nature. It is as if her profession of creating art also defined her personality as artist and with that she assumed a life of freedom, self expression and little responsibility to the house and home. I always wonder how women can raise children and profess not to cook. How is this possible? The Amish value the home. It is a place of peace but also of productivity. Every single part of running a household is valued from canning, to cleaning, to laundry, to childcare, to cooking and even creating items that many consider breathtakingly beautiful. But to the Amish it is no big deal because they are ordinary people, doing ordinary tasks that honor their God. They are not exceptional in any way because to be so would be false pride and only God is perfect. I think to many of us it seems idyllic because our own culture has devalued the homemaker to the point of making her comedic. I love the sitcom, The Middle. But I find the mother, Frankie, to be a bit of a wreck as a mother and homemaker. Yet, I laugh often out loud because so much of that show reflects what modern families face on a daily basis.
I found the author to be judgmental of the families she stayed with. The first family was clearly defined by gender roles. Through her choice of words, the author looks upon this with disdain. The second family was a bit different in that two sisters live together, one unmarried and a midwife who would have attended medical school if she could have done so without giving up her religion and her entire community. The other sister, also a midwife, has a house full of children, and a home to run, but despite the sheer amount of work, she also has a thriving midwifery practice. In this house the author felt more comfortable and stayed for quite some time. Realizing that this is a memoir, not a anthropological study of an American sub-culture, I feel the author has leeway to interject her personal thoughts and feelings, even if those give the reader the impression that she is a self-absorbed person and quite judgmental and as such, probably still has much more to learn from the Amish...
I recommend this book. It is a short read and gives us a first hand glimpse into a life that is often looked at through car windows and tourist traps. I longed to visit an Amish homestead, understand how they are able to farm such expansive stretches of land efficiently, raise their children peacefully, garden organically, and put their faith foremost in their lives. This book gave me the ability to do that vicariously through Ms. Bender’s experience.