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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

After An Unthinkable Tragedy: Learning About Grace and Forgiveness From My Amish Neighbors

On October 2, 2006, we experienced a local tragedy that was just monstrous in its proportions. The West Nickel Mines tragedy rocked not just a tiny Amish community, but the nation as well.

On that morning, a man walked into an Amish schoolhouse in West Nickel Mines, Lancaster County, PA, taking ten young girls hostage. He shot them all execution-style, killing five and seriously wounding the others before he turned the gun on himself and ended his own life.

As you can imagine, the fallout in the area was immediate and overwhelming. How? Why? Our minds played the questions over and over and the only answers we got were that he just walked in the door and it happened because it just did. Not much comfort, particularly when this unimaginable act was visited on children - children who were apart from the terrors we all see nightly on the evening news. Children who should have been safe.

And if those children aren't safe, neither are mine, not really. Not in this world where monsters can wear the face of and live the life of everyday people whom we call neighbors.

But in the face of all that is terrifying to a parent, all that is horrifying to a community, all that can bring you to your knees as a human being, we watched them with their heads wrapped in butterfly bonnets and somber black flat top hats. We watched them walking behind the horse and carriage that held the body of their loved ones, quiet and dignified as they laid in the ground children who never had a chance at a life of service to their God, their families and their communities.

Then we watched as they surrounded the family of the shooter at his funeral as well, offering their support, their prayers - and their forgiveness.

We read the stories of how they visited the parents of the shooter, and how one of the Amish brethren held the shooter's father for over an hour as he cried. We collected money at bake sales, in cans on counters at the local pizzeria, in church services, and sent it to the families for their enormous medical bills. And then we watched with our hearts swelling as the Amish insisted that a portion of the money raised go to the wife and children of the shooter, as well.

Who among us, when faced with a tragedy the depths of this, could reach inside ourselves and through the pain to clasp the hand of someone we could so easily identify with the root of it all? Which of us would be able to see someone else's pain through the blinding curtain of our own agony?

The answer is: someone who lives that life every single day. If there is one thing I could say to the families today, it would be that their daughter's lives mattered. They mattered to me, because I learned from them a lesson I will carry to my own grave.

Love matters. Forgiveness matters. Family and Friends and Community matter. We need to be holding hands instead of pointing fingers.

I will remember that on this day, and for always.

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