A few days among the Amish can bring helpful perspective to those of us who happily turn darkness to light with the flip of a switch, hop into the car for a quick run to the grocery store, or pay the bills with a few taps on our smartphones.
In an Amish home, a 2:00 a.m. trip to the bathroom requires a flashlight, buying groceries calls for a buggy ride, and the landline phone is kept in the garage or barn to discourage idle chatter.
Days begin early and run late: hard work and steady conduct are the rule. Family is a priority, every generation is cherished, and everybody pitches in.
Accomplished farmers may be respected, but there’s no celebrity culture: they know how to take pride in their work while practicing personal humility. From childhood, all are encouraged to do their best with what they have.
The Amish in Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County pay taxes like everyone else, but don’t take advantage of public schools. Instead, children from first through eighth grade learn together in a network of one-room schoolhouses. The older students help the younger ones.
After eighth grade they go to work, whether on the farm or learning a trade. School work focuses on the basics, and classes are taught mostly in English, but they all speak German, too. Smart kids.
Schoolteachers are generally young women who have not yet married, teaching from the basis of their own eighth-grade education supplemented by personal study and conversation with other teachers – and they take the responsibility very seriously.
Inside one schoolhouse that serves 29 students with representatives in all eight grades, student desks are arranged with the smallest ones up front, increasing in size toward the back rows. Colorful posters and quotes adorn the walls, along with a list of all the parents: just six couples.
I was granted permission to photograph and post a quotation that I saw in other places as well. Attributed to Henry van Dyke, it’s a challenge for everyone to do their part:
“Use what talent you have: the woods would be very quiet if only the birds sang that sang best.”
The odd wording at the end makes it a bit more memorable than “if only the best singers sang.”
And it’s worth remembering. We don’t appreciate each other enough, I think. Most of us live in a culture that fawns over actors and athletes, admires star students and top earners, and takes for granted the people who make the life we know happen.
Where would we be without cashiers and shelf-stockers at the grocery store, warehouse workers and truck drivers who deliver the goods, or farmers who raise the crops and livestock?
How could hospitals or health-care agencies function without nurses, housekeepers, kitchen workers, or administrative staff?
Whether it’s food in the fridge or meals from a restaurant, repairs to the car or gas in the tank – name any comfort or convenience we enjoy, and behind it we’ll find legions of unseen people who are the unsung heroes of everyday life.
If all of us could learn to take pride in the roles we play, and to appreciate what others do, we’d hear a lot more music in the woods.
And if we don’t? That reminds me of another quote I saw in the shop of a clockmaker/minister:
“Ve are too soon oldt, and too late schmardt.”
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.