Until about four years ago I lived in Pennsylvania’s Amish country.
It’s a beautiful area, though sometimes the smell of cow manure can be overpowering. But if you could put the stench aside lazy afternoon drives through the back roads of Lancaster county were amazing. Amish farmhouses have a distinct look to them, their fields were always neat and tidy. And sometimes, you’d have to stop and wait while little Amish boys drove cattle across the road.
One afternoon, it may have been in late spring, I drove past a little Amish schoolhouse on the road between Gap and Strasbourg. It was a gorgeous day — a clear blue sky, large white puffy clouds, a slight breeze and a temperature right around fifty-five, good jacket weather. The Amish children were outside playing baseball on a makeshift field. I stopped, pulled off the side of the road, and watched for maybe fifteen minutes. It was so incongruous, to see Amish children — the girls in their dresses, the boys in their dour jumpers, both groups wearing their wide-brimmed straw hats — playing baseball that gloriously beautiful afternoon. One of the girls waved at me. I waved back, though I felt as though I were intruding into their fun. The Amish may shun electricity and plumbing and all the modern niceties, but not baseball. Not baseball.
I think of that, because it’s a beautiful day. It’s glorious, and it’s warm after a few chillier days, and the air feels fresh and clear with just a bite of breeze. And I think of the Amish schoolhouse, the one I passed on that backcountry road, when I read that an armed gunman shot and killed six people at an Amish schoolhouse in southeastern Lancaster county:
A gunman killed six people at a one-room Amish schoolhouse Monday morning in Pennsylvania’s bucolic Lancaster County, and several others were taken to hospitals with injuries, authorities said.
“So far, six confirmed dead, and the helicopters are pulling into (Lancaster General Hospital) like crazy,” Coroner G. Gary Kirchner said.
It was unclear if the shooter was among the six. State Police Cpl. Ralph Striebig said earlier that the shooter was dead.
Three girls, all in critical condition with gunshot wounds, were admitted to Lancaster General Hospital, spokesman John Lines told WGAL-TV. Officials at the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center confirmed that victims also were being admitted there. A spokeswoman said the hospital anticipated more than one patient.
Police surrounded the one-room school in southeast Lancaster County late Monday morning, and the Lancaster County 911 Web site reported that dozens of emergency units were dispatched to a “medical emergency” at 10:45 a.m.
Three dozen people in traditional Amish clothing, broad-brimmed hats and bonnets stood near the small school building, surrounded by a low white fence, speaking to one another and authorities. Others gathered with a group of children at a nearby farm while investigators stretched out in a line across a field searching for evidence.
The school is situated among farmlands just outside Nickel Mines, a tiny village about 55 miles west of Philadelphia.
I read this news article, and the word appalled simply isn’t strong enough. These events are just senseless, and something needs to be done. Banning guns would be the right place to start, because unfortunately gun violence has become a fact of American society. If we value ending gun violence in this country, we need to end the love affair with guns.
No one deserves this. No child deserves this. And Amish children certainly don’t deserve this. They should be doing other things — like learning, like farming, like driving their buggies down country roads, like even playing baseball on a day like today — but not fearing for their lives because of a madman with a gun, not laying bleeding and dying. There’s something sick and wrong about a society in which something like this can happen to a people so innocent and special and gentle and unique.
I doubt this was the schoolhouse I drove past. I certainly hope it was not. But it could have been, and now my special little, odd little memory of Amish children playing baseball is tinged with a sadness it doesn’t deserve because those children who were shot this morning could well have been the children I saw playing baseball those short years ago.