Here in the North Country, the Amish and English live side by side, neighbor next door to neighbor. Lives intersecting mostly superficially—you stop at the display of baskets set up in a village parking lot, you see the sign “Eggs” on a back road and pick up a dozen, or you just barely avoid a collision with a buggy on a narrow road late at night.
The barriers were crossed yesterday as we English mustered everything we have—cars, phones, helicopters, internet, law enforcement records on sex offenders, search teams—to find the two Amish girls abducted from the vegetable stand in front of their Heuvelton farm.
I live in Amish country. On my road and on every road in the old DeKalb/Depeyster/Heuvelton area, Amish people are our neighbors and, in some cases, our friends. English and Amish were consumed by the abduction. On Route 812 and the side roads off of it, searchers on foot combed the ditches and corn fields. Police and emergency vehicles lined the shoulders; helicopters hovered around Mt. Alone across from the farm where the girls live. We were all worried and imagining the worst.
My first instinct yesterday was to visit my closest Amish friends who are neighbors and friends with the family whose girls were abducted. Actually, I stopped by their place twice and later met them on the road as they were headed over to lend their support to the family.
My conversation with my Amish friends was the same as my conversation with everyone else I talked with yesterday. We were all sick at heart, worried, horrified. We all agreed that this was a terrible “first” for our community, something shocking that had never happened before.
Because we are friends, I could take it a little deeper: talk about the impact this would have on so many Amish families whose children run the vegetable stands. It’s part of their farm economy. I could mention my horror that people would take advantage of the Amish vulnerability –no phones or cars to use in response to an event like this.
I felt ashamed and somehow responsible—our “sick” English society, you know—for this terrible event.
We shared many of the same feelings. But their perspective is a bit different: they do not feel like “special” or “other” victims. This could happen to anyone. And, they pointed out firmly that as soon as the girls were taken, the family raced to an English neighbor’s home and the police were called within minutes of the abduction.
My Amish friends see the person or persons who abducted the girls as “sick” or even wicked. It was a good vs. bad person or behavior thing. I was trying to lend my Amish friends support through a sharing of the anguish. In fact, they lent me support by making this a human, a family, a parental story rather than an Amish vs. English thing. They made me feel a little better, in the midst of the worry we all shared.
This event may lead to some changes in how Amish families run their vegetable stands, at least in the near future. But I think it has also changed, perhaps in a small way, how our two cultures intersect. This was our collective disaster. We came together from our hearts. Later today, when I see my friends we will share our relief. Isn’t that what everyone across the county is feeling today? Not so Amish vs. English. Just all of us relieved and thankful.