Thoughts on the Life of the Amish

The terrible shootings this week at an Amish school in Pennsylvania put the spotlight on a group that sets itself apart from the rest of society.


The saddest sight of the week has been the long lines of Amish buggies slowly following horse-drawn hearses bearing the bodies of some of the five young girls killed in the shooting at their single room schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania.

Five other youngsters are still in critical condition. There was the clop of hooves, the rustle of corn stalks, and the soft crunch of black heels along winding country roads as the plain boxes cradling the girls were taken to graves that had been dug out by hand.

It's often tempting to idealize the Amish as gentle innocence. But when you've had the chance to get to know a few in the mildest possible way, as I have as a reporter, you'll understand how patronizing it can be to treat the Amish as endearing dollhouse figures in bonnets and straw hats. They are mature human beings. They are not innocence. The Amish know that life is tough. In fact, they may know it better than those of us who've never drawn our own water, grown or slaughtered our own food - basil plants don't count - or seen a boiling gray sky and worried about how we would eat in a few months.

Every year there are young Amish who leave their closed communities. They usually say they weren't dazzled and seduced by T.V., washing machines, cars and beer; they felt suffocated by an unchanging way of life that in trying to isolate itself from the wickedness of the world locks out of many of its glories too.

The motive for the murders that Charles Carl Roberts IV committed this week is still a matter of conjecture and investigation. Charles Roberts suffered the death of his infant daughter nine years ago. He told his wife that he had molested two young cousins 20 years ago. Emma Mae Zook, the 20-year-old teacher in the schoolhouse, reportedly told state police that Charles Roberts told the young girls whom he tied up in the school that he was angry at God. They should pray for him not to shoot them.

Investigators say that 13 year old Marianne Fisher, the oldest of the girls, replied with a stunningly brave and noble request. Shoot me, she said, and leave the others alone.

No community should suffer a massacre. You might want the Amish to suffer one least of all.

Amish families have a tradition of trying to embrace the families of those who hurt them, and several Amish families have reportedly met with Charles Roberts's wife and parents. The massacre of their children is beyond all reason, but even from a distance when you see the Amish mourn and reach beyond their grief, you're reminded of the phrase from Philippians, Let your gentleness be known to everyone, and you will have the peace of God which surpasses all understanding.

(Soundbite of singing)

SIMON: Amish Singers of Colona, Iowa. This is NPR News.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.