I will never forget the look on my younger brother’s face through the rear view mirror of the old 1988 Diesel injected Volkswagen. It was a look of disbelief. A look that asked “Why”? Why would you just walk out and leave me and the others for an evil life in the world? After all those years we spent together. Years of back breaking labor side by side in the fields plowing, planting, shocking oats, husking corn. Years of cutting down trees with a hand held 2 man saw out in our woods, where we’d take a break and I’d spend the time telling him imaginary stories about living in the Wild among the Indians and hunting with bows and arrows. Also years of work side by side in our sawmill shed.
Heck, until we were about 13 and 14, we even shared the same bed. A bed where when it was 25 or 30 below zero in Frigid Wisconsin, we would curl up under the double quilt in the cold, unheated upstairs and put our backs against each other for warmth until the shivering went down enough for us to doze off to sleep. Me in the Middle, with 2 younger brothers
Later on in years, we went hunting and fishing together, and finally, even went to the Singens together. However, somewhere along the way, I started getting into the radios and music, and the world truly began calling in a much stronger way. My younger brother, on the other hand, was completely happy with staying at home on the farm and sawmill, working from dawn to dusk by the sweat of his brow, possibly eventually starting a family, and remaining in the Amish community forever.
If we grew apart ever so slightly toward the very end, it was only because our interests were going in completely different directions. Mine were toward a more adventurous nature. A life on the outside. His were exactly opposite. Establishing a construction business and a lumber yard inside the community. While I was sneaking over to the neighbor to listen to his radio in his barn and catch up on the latest news, he spent that time begging with me to settle down and change my ways.
As I sit here in the basement of my home in Holts Summit, Mo, writing out these words, and I watch my 4 yr old daughter as she keeps coming downstairs with different costumes she’s trying on to get my approval, and I hear my 20 month old daughter chattering aimlessly as she plays with a doll, some words clear, and other words she seems to invent as she goes along. In the background I hear my wife of almost 7 years laughing out loud while watching an episode of her favorite cooking show, and I realize that it has been quite a ride.
However, if I hadn’t taken that one turn at that one crucial crossroads in my life when I was 22 yrs old, I would almost surely be a married Amish man these days with a wife and probably 5 or 6 kids. Today, I would have been cultivating the corn one last time with a team of horses before it gets too tall to cultivate. Tomorrow I just might be greasing up the oats binder to begin the first field of oats cutting and shocking. This weekend I would be getting a growing family together and trying to squeeze a family of 7 or 8 into a buggy for church.
If, like so many who knew me well, predicted, had I remained, I would become an Amish preacher. Right now, I might be studying the German “New Testament” in preparation for this Sunday’s sermon.
Truly it is hard to imagine a life like this among my people, the Amish! However, it takes only a small amount of imagination to visualize me and my Amish family getting together with all my siblings and their kids, aunts and uncles, cousins, etc tonight, like we did for every 4th of July in Wisconsin, and sit outside in the yard and watch the fireworks in the distance of the town of Greenwood, Wi. 5 miles away.
We would be eating the homemade strawberries and ice cream, from ice preserved in an Icehouse. Ice that we had cut last winter and covered with layers of sawdust. While we ate this delicious treat we would be waiting for the half hr it took for the people of Greenwood to travel the distance to Neillsville, Wi and watch the firework display there.
The earliest Pic ever of me. 17 yrs old
Today in this life, a life I chose on the outside world, I worked in a stressful environment at my regular job at the local car dealership in Columbia, Mo. After a day of work, I come home and eat dinner with my “English” family. I spend some time with the wife kids. I spend some time with my ghost rider of my book that I am working on. And I write out these my words that come to my mind.
This is the life I chose. Did I make the right decisions? Am I where I am needed? Does God truly still have a bigger plan for me on the outside? I am impatient to find out exactly what that plan is. I am impatient in my life to be further. It is not enough to realize that I have a beautiful family, home, and a job. I am impatient to be out of debt. Impatient to see what the future holds for me.
It is not good enough for me to compare myself to others my age and find comfort in that I am truly blessed with what I have. I have a gnawing inside to do more. What is it? I can’t quite place my finger on it.
Tomorrow my life goes on. I can’t go back. I can’t really even afford to look back. I made my decision, and besides Holidays like this, when I know full well that my Amish family is gathered together and I am not there, I seldom regret my decision to leave. Nevertheless, if I said I don’t miss the old life during Holidays, I’d be lying. These times are truly the hardest part about being on the outside looking in.
When the look on my little brother’s face haunts me, when I wake up in the middle of the night in a sweat and am preaching in front of several room fulls of Amish people, and when Holidays come and go, I briefly have to take a step back and remind myself why, on this day, 10 years ago today, I left all I ever knew for a new life.
A life that I was very unsure of. A life where I had no idea if I would survive or not. A life where I had only suspicions, not proof, that one could worship freely in his own way. And finally, a life where I had heard that a dreamer like myself could go as far as one pleased without the chains of a sect of people binding one down.
The first 10 years of my life on the outside have come and gone. I can only hope that the next 5 or 6 decades can be as rewarding as the first has been! As I watch the Marvelous firework display with my family and neighbors in Holts Summit, Mo. I realize that my new life really is not that much different then the old one was. All it really takes is family and friends around me to make me feel complete.