Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Happening - A Lesson in Forgiveness

I just finished reading this book, "The Happening: Amish School Shooting ... An Amazing Story of Forgiveness," by Harvey Yoder.

I have a different edition, it appears, from the one that is sold on I purchased it in the pharmacy, of all places, the other day while I was waiting to get a prescription refilled. They have a book rack with various paperbacks on it.

When I noticed this book, I immediately picked it up.

I live in an area of Pennsylvania that is heavily populated with Amish and Mennonite people. They are respected members of any community where they live. The Amish and Mennonites are self-sufficient and law-abiding. They are what we call in these parts, "God-fearing folks."

The Amish and the Mennonites move quietly among us here in Pennsylvania. You see them in the Wal-Mart, and at the local grocery store where there is a hitch in the parking lot to secure horses. We patiently avoid their buggies on the streets and major highways where they can always be seen going to and fro.

But for the most part, the Amish and Mennonites also live in solitude and keep to themselves. Very few people outside of their direct communities really know them.

At times, the Amish have been victims of crime. Disrespectful teenagers have threatened to run their buggies off the road. They have been called names. When I used to work in the male correctional facility, I knew of one inmate who was incarcerated for raping an Amish girl while she worked alone in the fields. These days, Amish girls do not work alone in the fields.

But what happend on October 2, 2006, was a horror beyond any description.

As Mr. Yoder says in his book, "A lone gunman ... brought the community together in a way he could never have imagined in his wildest, most deranged moments."

On that October morning, a non Amish man, known to the Amish community because he drove a local milk truck that stopped at their farms, entered an Amish school house, took hostages, and ended up murdering five young innocent girls and injuring more - both physically and psychologically.

The Amish refer to the event as "the happening."

I live within driving distance of Nickle Mines, near Lancaster, PA. And because we have so many Amish here in our own community, everyone was in shock and horror when the happening occurred. It was like it happened to our own Amish neighbors here in our own community. Everyone wanted to help. Everyone prayed for the children and their families. People from all over the world responded with love and kindness. Because I used to live in a one-room schoolhouse and can remember the physical layout of the building, I could especially imagine the horror of that morning.

All the while, the Amish struggled with their grief and their desire to maintain privacy. As Mr. Yoder writes, the Amish shun the public spotlight.

Mr. Yoder's book can be classified as historical fiction, I guess. It is told from the point of view of a little girl named Rebecca Sue. She is a compilation of the survivors of the shootings. Mr. Yoder moved to the area and did extensive research for his book.

The amazing message of this book is not the details of the shooting, which are accurate from what I remember from the news reports. Rather, the message of the book is about forgiveness. About what we can learn about forgiveness from the Amish community. Mr. Yoder writes,

"The evening after the shootings, an Amishman visited the grandfather of the gunman's widow and offered his condolences. But more than that, he gave the gift of forgiveness. This is what continued to rivet the attention of the world, even after the initial shock of the massacre wore off. Stories leaked out, telling of Amish families attending the gunman's funeral, and of Amish people contacting the widow to assure her that they held no malice toward her in their hearts."

The Amish even shared part of the huge sum of donated money that came in from all over the world with the gunman's family.

The Amish truly exemplify the Christian value of forgiveness. How do they do it? Mr. Yoder explains:

"Man's natural inclination when wronged is to revenge. Even dedicated Christians struggle with conflicting emotions and sometimes have to forgive over and over. But we all have a choice. Love and forgiveness can hardly be separated. Neither can hate and revenge. God gave each of us a will which only we can exercise. We have to choose between love and hate, forgiveness and revenge. Our feelings are not sufficient for the task. We have to make a conscious choice, and our feelings will follow. When we examine these decisions in the light of Christ's ... teachings, the right choice becomes obvious."

Read this book, and read about the choices the Amish made within the framework of their Christian teachings. The Amish can teach all of us important lessons, no matter what our faith tradition.

I promise you that you will need tissues for your tears more than once before you finish the story.


C said...

Asalaamu Alaikum

Sounds like a very good read. I'll add it to my list insha Allah.

sabiwabi said...

I think I will have to buy this one


Anonymous said...

As Salaam Alaikum,
I wish freaks like Patt Robertson/ Rush Limbaugh, etc... who yell "Islaam is Evil" and dance with offensive placards, go back to their Christian roots which is more exemplified by the Amish.

I am always intrigued by the Amish, and love reading about them.

Did you know Military Intelligence also put them on surveillance during WW1 because of their German roots, goes on to show how people who are "out of the box" were treated and are still treated in US.

Check this out:

Anonymous said...

I want to quote your post in my blog. It can?
And you et an account on Twitter?

Safiyyah said...

Anonymous - please provide me with a link to your blog so I know who you are.

American Muslima Writer said...

I love this review, the Amish are some of the most intersting and religious people I can imagine in USA. Had I not joined Islam I was headed for them.