I was embarrassed, even ashamed, when this thought came to me in the weeks after the Amish tragedy. I knew where the thought came from: years of reading and re-reading the Little House On The Prairie books, books I read on cold blustery days when the lane blew shut and the wind howled forlornly around our farmhouse. After lunch I would pull a blanket around me and read again how Caroline Ingalls dealt with the various disasters that came upon the Ingalls family.
One particularly hot summer a hailstorm wiped out their crops in a few minutes. The family scooped up the ice and made ice cream. There was no great loss without some small gain, and that ice cream was so delicious!
But what was wrong with me when I thought of this in connection with the Amish accident? This tragedy was beyond “a great loss.” It was an unimaginable loss. Many children were left with only one parent and our neighbors both died, leaving twelve children of their own. Stunned and grief-stricken, the Amish and “English” communities stumbled through the days as best they could – setting up cots at school, giving to a “relief fund”, handing out cold bottles of water, gathering and preparing food, arranging the hours of the funeral, only to repeat the process two more times in the following days.
Then word came that a childless couple from Ohio – relatives – would sell their property and move to Jasper and care for the twelve children. This was not a “small gain” – this was an enormous gain, one I could not imagine undertaking. Social workers, back off! You will not separate those children! Adding one baby to a family often creates instant chaos. There is loss of sleep, extra laundry, more food to prepare, mysterious illness, a battle of the wills when the child is older – every parent could add several more things to the list.
But the Amish live in community. What affects one of them affects all of them. I keep remembering what a young Amish girl said during the schoolhouse shootings in Pennsylvania some years ago. The gunman had pointed his gun at a small child and an older girl spoke up, saying “Shoot me instead and let her go.”
Now, day after day Amish buggies clopped past our house. They were headed up the hill to sit with grieving relatives, to help with work, to bring some bread or rolls, and to give a silent message that together they would find their way. God was with them. They had no choice but to forgive the man who caused the accident, because God told them they must forgive.
Life is such a mixture of good and bad, bitter and sweet, loss and gain. When I was a child, I loved fairy tales! Things were so bad for the characters, but they all reached a point where they lived happily ever after. I learned this is not real life. We have great losses throughout life, but at times we also have small gains and I am so glad those Amish children are going to have parents once again.
My small gain is that I re-learned that we absolutely must live in community with each other. Whether we admit it or not, what affects one of us affects all of us. God said it, and it is true.