As I begin my interview with Levi – I explain to him that although I will do my best to conceal his identity, I am not able to protect him from the possibility that someone from his Settlement or one of his “English” friends will read his story. It would most certainly lead to being shunned from the only way of life he has ever known. He would no longer be able to attend his church, or do business within the Amish Community. His chair at the family dinner table would be removed. He risks losing lifelong friends, and his place within the community. I sincerely want him to understand there could be consequences to what he is agreeing to do. “I will protect your identity by changing your name in the story but, I explain, the devil will be in the details.” Levi adjusts his position in his chair and reaches for a cigarette.
“I am willing to take that risk”.
Many of you may wonder why, when Levi has so much to lose, would he want to share his story with me? The answer is not as simple as the question. He is admittedly angry, hurt and often depressed. He deeply questions the laws of his culture, the hypocrisy he sees and the betrayal he has experienced from his wife, his church, his community, his friends and his elders. The betrayal that sleep can’t even escape. Being shunned one way or the other, appears inevitable. He wants to share his story-
Levi was born in Ohio and moved to Michigan when he was 18. He is one of 13 Siblings and at the age of 18, was baptized in the Amish Church. Amish children have the choice as to whether or not they want to be baptized which is typically between the ages of 18-20. If you choose not to be baptized within the church, you can leave the Amish Culture without the punishment of being shunned and go on to live the life of your choosing. Once baptized though, you are publicly accepting the rules of the church. Rules that are often Riddled with inconsistency and hypocrisy from one settlement to another.
Levi recalls his younger days milking cows at the age of 5 and working from sun-up until sun-down the majority of his childhood with the exception of his time spent in school where they attend through the 8th grade. His family struggled financially so childhood pleasures were not plentiful. Levi grinned though as He recalled his most precious memories of his favorite Uncle. Levi smiled and chuckled saying, “He Could take a small story and make it 10 feet long and wouldn’t quit until he had everyone on the floor laughing.”
Levi fell in love and married at the age of 21. His Bride at the time was 18. Levi reaches for another cigarette and takes a sip of his coffee before he continues. “The First Five wedding Anniversaries we celebrated were the only real anniversaries we had. The next 10 were all lies.”
“It was later in the evening after the sun had gone down and I was sitting at the table doing paperwork. My wife said she needed to talk to me after I was done. It was only about 5 minutes when I completed my job and I looked up at her and asked what it was she needed to talk to me about.”
Levi leaned forward in his chair and fiddled with the tattered strands hanging on the edge of a bandaid wrapped around his finger.
“She told me she had been having an affair for the last 10 years of our marriage. Not just with one man, but six.” His brother and his best friend were on the list of two of the men that betrayed him by, as Levi calls it, “having fun” with his wife.
He was in shock. Too numb for anger to set in. His wife sauntered off to bed as he sat at his kitchen table engulfed by both physical and emotional darkness.
He would sit in silence trying to make sense of his world until the sun rose ushering in the beginning of a new day he did not know how to live.
Adultery. A mortal sin. His wife would have to confess to the Bishop of her sin. She would be told she had to publicly confess to the church. She didn’t however, have to confess the details of her adultery and the numerous men she was with. She was only shunned for two weeks. Levi on the other hand, was living in hell.
He was angry, felt the gut wrenching feeling of a deep betrayal, depressed and emotionally tattered. He was told by his Bishop and his wife’s family not to talk to anyone about the situation and he must move on and act like nothing has happened. He felt isolated and with no-one to talk to – Levi began to implode. Sleep eluded him and he began to drink to escape the feelings he was too exhausted to face. It has now been two years since the day his wife confessed and Levi is not certain his wife has changed her ways. How would he really know? He is torn because he no longer wants to be married to her. Although he questions the expectations God has of him, He thinks about getting a divorce……
Herein lies Levi’s dilemma.
If Levi asks the Bishop for a divorce, It will Be HIM that is shunned from the community. Not his wife. “Hypocrisy within the Amish Culture” Levi repeated more than once. He would lose everything. His home, his farm, his family and the simplified way of life he once found peace and His God in. He will be forced to navigate life down an unfamiliar and uncertain path. Why would it have to be him that is “the bad guy” as he puts it when he can no longer live with a woman that has violated her commitment to God and the church to love, honor and cherish him?
Levi lit another cigarette as I sat in silence engulfed in the sincerity of his desire to make sense of his world.
A world in which he is told he cannot own a “Wireless Gizmo”(cell phone) because the devil is in it but he is allowed to use an English Person’s cell phone anytime he wants to. A world in which he is told he can not drive but can pay a driver to take him anywhere he wants to go. A world in which he feels the Amish take advantage of the English people’s perception that “all Amish are honest” (which he emphatically states is NOT true). A world in which one person’s shunning for the same act is not as harsh as another’s because of their social status within the community (often times a Bishop may turn a blind eye to protect certain people). A world in which he is told he can’t use power tools with a battery but can use a flashlight that has them. It is a world that is unravelling in his mind. A world he can no longer make sense of. A world that he is told he can not get a HS GED or further his education just because “That is the way things are”. A world that tells him he cannot leave his wife yet if the shoe was on the other foot and it was him that was the adulterer, his punishment would have looked different from his wife’s punishment.
It is however, also a world in which he appreciates the close sense of community that rallies together when one of their own experiences tragedy. A community committed to monthly free will offerings that pay for hospital bills if you were to fall sick. A quiet way of living with a deep sense of familial loyalty….
That is, until you break their rules.
After listening to Levi’s Story, I secretly questioned in my own mind how different Levi’s World truly was from our own……….
……the world of the “English”.
“And Suddenly you know – it’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings.” Meister Eckhart
“Going Through Things you never thought you’d go through, will only take you places you never thought you’d get to.” Morgan Harper