February 2019, Lancaster, Pennysylvania
Little did I know that one day I would be able to visit an Amish Village and try to have a deeper understanding of the Amish way of life. This most unexpected visit happened due to the meticulous planning of my friend Tina who wanted me to have an offbeat experience of America. It was a long and pleasant drive on a wintery February morning from Elkton to Pennysylvania, through vast green fields and meadows and winding roads. It was Tina’s young daughter, Rhea who drove us all the way, making the ride even more thrilling and exciting.
As we approached the Amish lands we were almost teleported back to the nineteenth century. Suddenly there were horse driven buggies,with hardly any cars around. Tina meanwhile gave me a heads up about the Amish community. The Amish people had their origins in Switzerland where they followed the traditional Christian Church order under Jacob Ammann in 1693. They are closely related to the Mennonite Church, though they have their own distinct features. It was in the early 18th century that the Amish community started to migrate to Pennysylvania to escape persecution. They strongly believe that the community is the heart of their life and serving their community is the way to salvation, while maintaining minimum contact with the outside world. Their rural ways of life give utmost importance to being in harmony with nature, soil, weather, plants and animals. I was enthralled and raptured to listen to this piece of history of mankind which is still so well preserved in the heart of America. This is a community who does not believe in higher education, nor are they inclined to use modern conveniences of life like telephones, cars and electricity. Most Amish people would not buy commercial insurance or even Social Security. Their values include putting God and Community above the individual, wisdom above intellect and simplicity and humility over technological advances.
Our day was well spent at Lancaster, Pennysylvania, as we soaked into their way of life, and tried to understand the depth of the values they stood for. Their fundamental life values are rooted to the Bible and to the life of Jesus Christ. Baptism usually occurs between the age of 16 to 23. Marriages are held within the Faith and they tend to have large families which are considered as a blessing from God. Formal education in Amish communities usually ends in 8th grade, usually in a one room school. This is enough to give them the life skills to sustain their livelihood within the community. This also serves as a hindrance for them to consider moving out of their community. Practical farming skills are passed on through the generations. Another interesting fact that we were told was that they do not like to be photographed. We could click pictures of the sceneries and surroundings, but not of individuals.
My thoughts went back to a 2004 when I was in Western Canada on an Exchange Programme where I had an opportunity to visit the Hutterites. The Hutterites also originated as a branch of the Anabaptists group and their roots go back to the Radical Reformation of the 16th century. While Amish people have family units within the communites, the Hutterites live in larger colonies, and practice communal living. Resources and talents are shared by the community. There is no competition to outbeat the other. The Hutterites also tend to wear brighter, bolder prints like polka dots, checks and stripes, unlike the Amish who are more into muted tones.
How similar they were, and yet so different. But what struck me most was the difference in their approach towards life as a whole when we compare it to our so-called modern societies. Today, the modern world has embraced technology at a fast pace so that our lives become more comfortable. Today’s machinery and technology has made our work easier. Productivity has improved, things can happen faster and we are endowed with more time to potentially explore more. But in reality, we have become lazier, more inactive and a puppet of our own inventions. Physical inactivity due to technological advances has led to a myriad of lifestyle diseases, mental anxiety and stress, in order to cope up and stay at par in this never ending rat race. More comfort does not necessarily equate to more happiness, unless the curious mind continues to be stimulated to explore and touch upon various dimensions of our amazing lives. Although life may have become easier for us today, where everything is available just at the switch of a button, or even just a gesture, we are probably unknowingly paying a price for it, by inviting a host of chronic lifestyle diseases and mental health issues.
The self sustaining, viable, happy, joyful and content communities of Amish and Hutterites are a few remaining examples of what is rapidly fading away from today’s modern world. As we drove back through the magnificent landscape back to Elkton, I thought how life beautifully thrived as long as we nurtured it well. When a community can sustain, flourish and be joyful without having desires of accumulating material wealth, then they are anyway not in the rat race. Rather, the focus of education automatically shifts to skill development and spiritual growth. Every day is an eye opener and I learn something new and start looking at life afresh from a different lens altogether.
Life is about striking that delicate balance between the never-ending advances in science and technology, and yet to still remain grounded, nurture humane values and strive to make our communities better. What we gain in the name of development and progress, shouldn’t be at the cost of our core values as a human race. The Amish way of life in today’s 21st century, in the heart of the most advanced nation in the world, certainly showed me a very different perspective of life.