Amish seek, give comfort after tragedy


The lyrics of the old song made popular by the soothing voice of Eddy Arnold have spun through my head numerous times during this past week as news reports brought the horrific news of yet another school shooting in our homes.
Tragedy. The nerve-jarring news of any school tragedy is difficult to take in. But the horror in an Amish school house in a bucolic part of the world where violence is nonexistent proved to be more than we could grasp.
The next afternoon after this tragedy, a beautiful autumn day, I was pleasantly surprised to come home and find our little Amish neighbor girls, Anna and Lizzie, here in our back yard, picking up walnuts as we had told them they were welcome to do.
Anna started school last year, and this year, her younger sister is now old enough to walk along with her. Anna is talkative, but Lizzie is shy.
When I saw Lizzie reaching for her handkerchief, I asked if she had a cold. Suddenly, I realized that she was crying.
Nothing could have made me feel worse.
“She just wants to be at home with our mother,” Anna said.
I told Anna if they did not want to collect walnuts on this day, they certainly didn’t need to. She shook her little head no and said, “My father is at the school house, and my mother said we are to stay here until she comes for us because we may not be safe if we were to go home alone.”
I realized then that tears were brimming in Anna’s beautiful brown eyes, too. I had to wonder if, without knowing precisely why, their world had been changed by the same news that had shaken us all.
I tried to shift the subject, talking to the girls about their favorite subjects in school, which Anna told me are spelling and reading. She said she especially loves spelling. Anna counted on her fingers and then told me her school has 12 girls and only 7 boys.
She said they have a very nice teacher who only sometimes has to get after the boys for their orneriness.
Anna said, “This is my school dress,” and showed me the hidden pocket in the dress under the black overlaid apron. “I can keep things in here,” she said with a sweet smile, a front baby tooth missing, as she pulled a white handkerchief from the big, square pocket.
My son Cort brought the girls each a candy bar and we offered them something cool to drink. Anna said, “We have drinks,” and showed us their glass bottles of juice in their lunch boxes.
Finding a long stick, I started poking at walnuts still in the tree, saying silly things as I tried to knock them free.
The less I said to Lizzie, the more she seemed to calm down. Finally, out of the blue, she said, “I have Cracker Jack!” and reached in to her lunch box to show me homemade Cracker Jack popcorn.
No more tears. She looked at me with shy blue eyes, and I was so relieved to see the tears had disappeared.
Later, when their mother came for them, we said our good-byes and I waved as I watched the horse and buggy pull away, heading them safely for home.
Anna poked her head out of the back of the buggy to give me one last smile and a wave. I felt comforted by that precious smile.
Sweet spirit. Her sweet spirit has stayed with me all week long, a touching undertone as more sad stories came out in the news.
There is a bittersweet realization that other innocent little girls, so very much like Anna and Lizzie, stood in that Pennsylvania school house on that fateful day.
As one Amish elder said, “We do not ask why. The sun comes up tomorrow and we must rise with it.”


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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.