I’m sitting here studying a photo of two little girls in Guatemala, ages 4 and 5. In the photo, the girls are chubby, laughing and hugging each other. They are slowly healing from the horrors of their past.
One year ago, they were brought to an orphanage with unspeakable mental and physical injuries. They had been starved, beaten, burned with cigarettes, tied to the front porch and left without food or water. Their faces were haunted, their huge eyes filled with the pain of what their caretakers (father and grandmother) had done to them. The gentle innocence of childhood had been brutally ripped from them.
I honestly can’t comprehend how anyone can do anything evil to children. Yesterday they buried 4 of the five Amish girls who died after being shot by a man who simply walked into their simple one-room schoolhouse, took them as hostages, and then shot them in the back of the head. A deeply disturbed person took their lives in cold blood and then ended it by turning the gun on himself, but saying first, “Pray for me.”
It’s been simmering in the back of my mind all week. I get this awful, gut-wrenching feeling each time I think about it. My only solace is knowing how the Amish are; forgiving, stoic and unwavering in their deep faith in God. That and their tremendous sense of community will help them cope.
My family used to take trips to Lancaster County, where Nickel Mines is. It was only a two-hour drive from our home in New Jersey, and an enjoyable weekend trip. I especially loved it as a child, driving past farmlands in the crisp chill of fall and buying large orange pumpkins to bring home and carve for Halloween or swinging by gift shops and admiring the quilts and crafts. I still have a dollhouse-sized Pennsylvania Dutch rocking chair mom bought for me.
My last trip there was before we moved to Florida. Mom and I went to Bird-in-Hand, barely 6 miles from Nickel Mines. We stayed at the Amish Country Motel, a serene motel surrounded by verdant farmlands. I walked down the road in the early morning as fog rolled over the misted hills, and felt a sense of peace that’s so difficult to capture in today’s hectic world.
As a child, I was fascinated with Amish; their crafts, simplicity and their charming, peaceful way of life.
As an adult, I am humbled by their absolute devotion to God and the deep wellspring of faith that allows them to forgive those who have wronged them.
I don’t know if I could forgive the father and grandfather who wronged the two little girls in the picture on my desk. And I have no connection to these girls, other than by trying to raise money to nurse them back to health.
Today the media released the information that one of the Amish girls, Marian Fisher, told the gunman, “Shoot me first.” Only 13, ready to face death, trying to give the younger girls a chance to escape. Such bravery, and conviction in her faith.
My mother’s name was Marian Fischer.
She was also brave, and had deep faith. She died of cancer 11 years ago this Christmas. She knew she was dying as the cancer ate its way through her body, but chose not to receive treatment. Instead, she relied on prayer and faith to keep strong enough so she could walk down the aisle at my wedding, her family totally oblivious. She wanted my wedding to be a happy occasion. It was her last, and most precious, gift to me.
After she died I found a variety of Catholic leaflets in her purse. I know she was praying hard and relying on her faith to sustain her.
The parallel between the Amish Marian Fisher and my mother, Marian Fischer, is very strong and I think there must be a significance to it somehow. What exactly? I don’t know.
All I can do is keep doing what I’m doing. And hope and pray that, like the two girls in the photo before me, the Amish community in Lancaster County will also heal from the horrors of this week and will regain the peace and gentle innocence that was wrenched from them.