There are plenty of reasons to admire the Amish, not the least of which has to do with their sense of community and responsibility toward one another. But last week's ice storm in Kentucky brought out other reasons: self-reliance and the ability to get by using only a modicum of technology. Add to that their willingness to assist their less self-reliant "modern" neighbors, and you have a model for how we should treat one another, and perhaps our planet.
Most of you know that I'm not of a religious bent. I'm highly skeptical regarding things spiritual, and am an innate materialist (what's here is here). But there are some religious sects for which I hold high regard, primarily because of what they do (or don't do) rather than because of what they say. In fact, I'm more than a little suspicious of folk who wax certain about what's going to happen to my heathen soul once I shuffle off, and who tell me how I should be livin' even whilst they don't practice what they themselves preach.
But the Amish live their creed, and they live it with a defiant simplicity that holds lessons for us all as we teeter on the brink of technological overload. The most admirable aspect of Amish life has to do with practice--with the doing of community, and their refusal to buy into technological determinism. Just because it's there, they say collectively, doesn't mean we have to adopt it.
And since most of the rest of us have latched on to every technological gimcrack that's come along in the last fifty years, one can imagine the impact of this scenario:
Hundreds of thousands of people in Kentucky have been without electricity for their lights, furnaces, ovens and refrigerators since the killer storm hit more than a week ago, and some spots might not get power back for weeks. (From the AP article printed on MSNBC)
Not to mention the microwave, the big-screen TV, the Wii, and the security system. The computer and phone can run on batteries until they wear out, so I guess what you save on electricity you can use to buy batteries.
Of course, the Amish do rely on fossil fuels (kerosene) for some of their lighting needs, but otherwise they tend to be fairly self-sufficient, growing most of what they need for fuel and food. And although they do buy cloth for making their own clothing, and may actually buy stuff to add to their larders, if they had to they could do without that, too.
I pretty much doubt that the rest of us could.
But, they're also not content to sit back and gloat in the glow of their fireplaces on cold winter nights. Instead,
When the wind died down and the ice storm had passed, Joe Stutzman gathered his spare lanterns and stepped out of his Amish farmhouse to lend them to his modern-living neighbors. "I feel sorry for my neighbors who were used to electricity and all of a sudden didn't have it," Stutzman said. "I know that must be hard for them."
No kidding. And these nice folks also supplied hot coffee to their neighbors every morning until the lights came back on.
The story certainly made me appreciate my old timey coffee grinder, and the woodpile out back, and reminded me that it might be a good idea to check out the camping equipment (which includes a little propane stove) every now and then. Even though I've got a duel-fuel range (the ovens are electric, but the stove itself is gas), it probably wouldn't light if the electricity were off; nor would the furnace. We could probably snuggle up with the cats and dogs to keep warm enough, and there is the fireplace, but the coffee would be a problem.
The electric coffee grinder would be useless, and so would the coffeemaker. But I could heat water on the camp stove, and I've got an old two-cup Chemex and a four-cup Melitta cone that fits over almost anything. There's also a stash of filters in the pantry, because we use the Melitta on camping trips.
We've probably had our last ice storm of the year, and didn't even lose power at all. But if we did, we don't have any Amish neighbors to bring us coffee, and even here in the historic part of town, most folks are even less self-sufficient than we are.
So my next experiment in doing without might be to pitch the Cuisinart and go back to using the Chemex; there's something more thoughtful about grinding coffee by hand, and very deliberately pouring hot water through the grounds and watching the brew emerge through the glass. Not only that, it tastes better.
Too bad we can't grow our own beans here. For as long as I stay addicted to this most savory of brews, I am a slave to the technologies that get it the raw ingredients to me--no matter how good I might be at doing without fancier ways of making it.
Images: Lancaster County, Pennsylvania Amish couple in their buggy from Wikimedia Commons, and my grandmother's Swift Mill coffee grinder--which still works beautifully and looks pretty nifty, too.