Episode Nine recap:
Two weeks after I left the Amish I was in a car accident. I had purchased a 1995 Manual transmission Ford Contour, and I was traveling on a winding two-lane road. I don’t know what happened. Perhaps I never will. But when I came to I was upside down in a creek, hanging from the seatbelt of my car, my head in water, the seatbelt holding me inches from drowning. Three days later I walked out of the hospital, on crutches because of a broken ankle, but only minor other scratches and bruises. Apparently I had hit the concrete retaining all of a culvert at 55 MPH head on. At twenty-three years old, my life, for all intents and purposes, should have ended there in that ditch, before I ever really got started with my life in the outside world.
Nine years later I was sitting in my office at the car dealership when my phone rang. Out of respect for the customer at my desk, I didn't answer. But when it kept ringing, the calls coming from five different Ex-Amish buddies, I knew the worst had happened. I just didn’t know the name.
Cephas Yoder, one of my best friends, had just been pronounced dead at the scene of a one-vehicle car accident. I sat in my office in stunned silence for a verry long time. Somehow, through the confusion, I vaguely remember my customer being handed off to a different salesperson while I sat there in a daze, unable to fathom the news.
Cephas left the Amish faith from a small community in Dixon, Missouri. The first time I met Cephas, I was blown away by his big ideas of how far he was going to go in life, how many millions of dollars he would make, and in how short of an amount of time. My first instincts were to hold him back, to tell him that if it were that easy, everyone, including myself, would be multi-millionaires by now. But then I changed my mind. Why? Why hold someone back, or tell someone they can’t do something? In fact, what good could possibly come from giving someone a reality check on what I viewed as ‘lofty’ life goals?
Over the next few years, I watched as Cephas adjusted to the outside world. We rode together to Joplin, Missouri to survey the tornado damage, and then later we went back to help rebuild. I will never forget how I was inside one of the houses hanging sheetrock, while Cephas was picking up debris in the back yard of the same home. Before long, Cephas came inside and ordered me to follow him to the back yard to admire his work. As a surprise to the homeowners, he had dug a hole in the ground, carried over a bunch of rocks, and made a really nice little underground yard water fountain. What I wouldn’t have given to see the faces of the owners when they saw that one bright little highlight in the midst of their debris-strewn neighborhood. But I saw that excitement on Cephas’ face, and that was worth almost as much.
If I could describe Cephas in three words it would be these. Fearless, Motivated, and Creative. It didn’t take long, in talks with him, to realize that he would not be deterred from achieving these lofty goals. On days when weather prevented him from working, like one cold and snowy day that I remember in particular, Cephas would come into my office and sit down to discuss, no, to brag, about these dreams. Coincidently, on these bad weather days, customers were usually not out shopping for cars, so the timing worked well. Cephas and I would sit in my office and for hours, go around and around in circles about how he would achieve these goals. While Cephas had the energy, motivation, and willpower, he lacked the know-how. So, I would force him to write down the step-by-step of what it would take to get to the next level, and to track the progress, down to the minutest detail. Cephas was stubborn, and convinced that all it took was a strong will, and a stronger back, and the success would readily come. And in this, while not wrong, I felt like I could help him, by possibly reframing his way of thinking. One example of his stubbornness was his insistence that one doesn’t need credit, or banks, or for that matter, people in high places, to reach wild success. I tried, in vain, to tell him that without credit, he will never get the loans he needs to buy equipment, offices, trucks, and all the other things he will need to achieve these goals. But Cephas, stubborn to the core, laughed my advice off. By the time he is 25, he insisted, he will be a multi-millionaire, debt free, and he would do it all without worrying about stupid details, like establishing credit. The bet became that, if he were successful in this I would have to, not only eat my own underwear, but also my own words and credit opinion. And if he failed, he would come back in and buy a vehicle from me in order to establish credit, swallow his words, and try things my way. The bet came up every time we saw each other, with me pulling up the calculator app on my phone, typing away, then reminding him that, if he wishes to win the bet, he needs to have the amount of $278,000.00 sitting in his account by now. Then adding, “How’s that going for you?” Cephas, an ornery grin on his face, would state that ‘it isn’t the sprint that counts, but rather the entire marathon.’ In hindsight, I’m doubtful that Cephas was going to win the bet, but if any Ex-Amish had the potential, it was he. And really, all bets aside, I really wish I could’ve seen him try. And succeed.
At Cephas’ funeral, the Amish preachers used his death, as a sinner in the outside world, as an example to instill fear into the hearts of those still in the community. They spoke of the prodigal son who went into the world, but the Prodigal son, unlike Cephas, was given the opportunity to come home and repent. But now, verily I say unto you, for Cephas, it is too late! And I, in their eyes just another sinful Ex-Amish, sat on a bench, separated from the righteous, and my heart boiled as I listened to the judgement of my friend.
The Amish community insisted that Cephas be buried among them, as if in doing so God might have a tiny sliver of mercy on his soul and perhaps, just perhaps, allow him into heaven. We threw dirt onto his Amish grave. Then, I whispered a few final words to my departed friend, quiet enough that the Amish couldn’t hear, and drove back to the city.
Cephas Yoder - March 16, 1992, to October 17, 2011. May all your lofty dreams and goals be achieved on the other side.