On October 2, 2006, near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, 10 little Amish girls were lined up in a schoolhouse and shot by a deranged neighbor, killing five. The Amish, however, immediately did something astonishing. They forgave the murderer and went straight to comfort his wife and children, insisting the family come to the funeral, which family members did. One member held the killer’s father as he sobbed for an hour.
Americans did not know what to make of it. Was forgiveness appropriate? Did it condone evil?
The news cycle, which obsesses about mass killings, had nothing left to examine. It was over.
I heard this story again because the Bible readings at my faith community Sunday night were about forgiveness. We were asked: How had the Amish been able to forgive and why?
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Because they were taking care of themselves and the world, we heard. To take on anger — even for a few hours — is to return evil for evil and thereby poison ourselves. The Amish would miss the girls forever, but compassion, gentleness and trust in the Lord would, with time, heal them and all victims.
It was an accident that these were the readings for the day of the Orlando Massacre. It was also an accident that the day before, a friend had sent me a quote from, of all people, the playwright Tennessee Williams. Williams has always seemed to me one tough bird, but here is what he wrote:
The world is violent and mercurial — it will have its way with you. We are saved only by love — love for each other and love that we pour into the arts we feel compelled to share, by being a writer, a painter, a friend. We live in a perpetually burning building, and what we must save from it, all the time, is love.
The story from Orlando was just a few hours old when it went political. It exploded. But another accident came my way that day, a happy alternative to the news.
In the back yard, birds were holding a singing contest. In the sky, pelicans were riding the thermals. In the street, kids were playing whiffle ball.
Sunday was a beautiful day. By the end of it I would hear again the story of the Amish.