A friend of mine told me a story at work the other day and it was so compelling, I asked if he'd mind writing it down for my blog. And he did.
An Amish Encounter
By Michael Overbeek
A year ago, a photographer friend of mine, Ken, invited me to join him on a trip to Breman, Indiana to photograph the Amish. He’s fascinated by the Amish culture and hopes to put together a “coffee table” book illustrating their lifestyle. Now, even with my limited knowledge of the Amish, I knew they would prefer not to be photographed. I just didn’t know why. We received a few nasty looks, but overall most would just ignore us. Some even waved. No, not what you’re thinking. They used all 5 fingers.
On the second day of our visit, a 16 year-old named Joe approached us on his bicycle curious about, well, everything. Joe asked us about our cameras, car, even asked if we had an iPhone. We spoke for over an hour and our conversation ended with an invitation to his home for dinner.
Last week, over a year later, I drove my two sons (13 and 14 years) to meet Ken back in Breman and have dinner with Joe’s family. As we began the drive my youngest son, Logan informed me that he had a new song on his iPod he’d like to share with us while I drove. Turns out he had downloaded Weird Al Yankovic’s Amish Paradise. The lyrics are sung to the melody of Coolio’s Gangster’s Paradise. While the song isn’t “disrespectful” of the Amish culture, it highlights the differences between their culture and ours in a very humorous way. Lyrics like “There’s no phone, no lights, no motorcars, not a single luxury. Like Robinson Crusoe, it’s as primitive as can be” and “Hitchin’ up the buggy, churnin’ lots of butter, raised a barn on Monday, soon I’ll raise a nutter. Think you’re really righteous? Think you’re pure in heart? Well, I know, I’m a million times as humble as thou art.” My boys’ belly laugh would have warmed Weird Al’s heart. I told them the song would seem even more amusing after the visit.
We were greeted by Joe and his entire family. They’d dressed for our arrival in what was probably close to their Sunday best. The children (all six, ages 1 to 16) were lined up to greet us. We all sat down in their living room and shared stories about how our cultures differ. They knew much more about our culture than I knew about theirs. I learned the primary reason the Amish don’t have their photo taken is their extreme distaste of vanity. To display a photograph is a form of honoring oneself. My, how different life outside the Amish community would be if vanity were shunned in a similar fashion as say, drunk driving is.
Joe’s father, Mark, apologized that his boys would be busy that afternoon. They’d hired a neighbor’s equipment to bale 6 acres of hay and it was the only time the equipment was available. I asked if my boys and I could help. While the beard covered most of his smirk, Mark placated us by inviting our assistance. So, we baled hay, were shown the livestock, and drove a horse drawn carriage. We also ate a fabulous meal of “fresh” chicken cooked over an open pit fire, vegetables from their garden, and homemade dessert.
I brought my sons in hopes they would not only recognize how well off they were, but how hard some children their age worked. When we left I wasn’t sure who was better off. The simplicity of the Amish life with the closeness of the families, or our tech savvy, “Cat's in the Cradle” inspired existence. I envy what the Amish have. I could never give up the technology that I’ve become so accustomed to, but neither could I criticize it.
We spent 9 hours with Joe’s family. We learned much about baling hay, and cooking chicken over an open pit. We also learned about the bond of a family who works together, prays together, and respects each other. As we drove away 9 hours after we had arrived, we realized we’d made some new friends.
On the way home, Logan played Weird Al’s Amish song again. This time none of us laughed.
Michael Overbeek is the owner of Overbeek Photography, www.overbeekphotography.com. Every time I look at his website, it makes me want to squish back into my wedding dress so he can do one of his amazing Trash the Dress photo shoots. He's also a pretty darn good writer. (Be sure to check out the photo gallery below to see pictures from his visit!)
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