September 26, 2007
And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and one soul
. . . and great grace was upon them all.
— Acts 4:32-33, King James Version
from the scripture lesson read at the Nickel Mines Amish school
on the morning of October 2, 2006
Sometime between now and the beginning of November — I can’t say exactly when — there will come the moment that marks the close of what I have come to regard as an annus mirabilis in my life.
This time last year I was in my typical September. I was trying to get back to fiction work after coming down off Bread Loaf Mountain. I wasn’t writing much for this site, but I was writing diligently in my private journal. This day last year I opened a new top-bound spiral notebook, having written 150 pages longhand in the volume I’d begun at the start of 2006. Filling more than one book is an important production goal for me, and the earlier in the calendar year I can do that the better I feel about my work.
On this day last year I noted, of course, that it was Lynn’s birthday. She was turning 21, and for dinner (for just Ron and me, because Lynn was at school in Millersville recovering from the ritual Twenty-First Birthday Bash at Jack’s that begins at midnight and ends when your designated driver decides it’s time for her, at least, to get to bed) I’d pulled out a recipe for fettucine with salmon in a dill cream sauce. It was on a crinkled clipping from Woman’s Day dated 1988, and handling the paper and producing the dish was a way of stepping back into Lynn’s babyhood for a moment.
I also noted what I was reading — Deborah Larsen’s The Tulip and the Pope, a chronicle of her time as a Sister of Charity. A reference by her to theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin led me to review his work on incarnation and matter and conciousness (yes, I can pick stuff like that off the shelves in my study) and then to recall the banner with his words that graced the borrowed upper room in the Methodist church on George Street that the Catholic community at Millersville used for Mass when I was a student: The task before us, if we would not perish, is to build the earth. “Heavy stuff for a Tuesday morning,” I wrote, and then went to the dentist.
It was, I would note later, the last “normal” thing that happened. Because within the next week I would lose two beloved friends my own age, one to a rare condition he had been expected to recover from, and one to suicide. I would become engaged by the events unfolding in a small town in Lancaster (not LAN-caster) County that was not Paradise. And I would become involved in a controversy (or perhaps it’s more accurate to say I triggered the controversy) about something that appeared in Millersville’s student newspaper, a school in which I am a quadruple stakeholder (alumna, parent, taxpayer, donor). As a result of irritating someone over that, I would be invited to engage with material concerning Millersville’s history that led me into an examination of my own history and the way good things and good people seem to so easily slip away from me. “I just want to howl,” I wrote, “because here is life reeling out of control, but is it really, because this isn’t life out of control, it’s just plain life.”
And somewhere in there is the moment that the annus mirabilis began. The energy of the events of late September and early October propelled me into acquaintances and reacquaintances, and finally into friendships both new and renewed, that I would not have otherwise pursued. I saw a revolution in my own inner energy, a surge in my useful production that earned me recognition in more than one community of writers who are taken seriously. The creative wind that gathered in me has not died down. I am back to fiction work much earlier after Bread Loaf than ever before, and will soon, for the first time, begin writing in a third 150-page notebook in a single calendar year.
We’re coming up on the anniversary of the Events of October 2, 2006 in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. Last night I attended a presentation by three scholars of Amish culture, Donald Kraybill, Steven Nolt, and David Weaver-Zercher, whose book on those events, Amish Grace, has just been published. I went mostly because I was already in the area for one of Lynn’s field hockey games and I wanted to acquire autographed copies of the book for myself and for gift giving.
I thought I knew everything about last October. I thought that, because I love the culture and study it, I already understood the nature of grace and forgiveness as practiced by the Amish and other plain sects.
I was taken by surprise by the power of the physical presence of the three authors. There was a compassion and a sensitivity that emanated from them that can only be described as grace. Their remarks reminded me of things concerning the Events that I had forgotten, and I learned things I had either not been able to tease out from reading between the lines last year, or had chosen not to realize until now.
I honestly thought Amish Grace would be a book I would have on my shelf because of what it represents, something like your Confirmation prayer book, and not necessarily something I would actually read.
This morning I opened it, and began reading, and read for two hours, not stopping even for my second cup of coffee. I’m not sure I wept last year. I made up for that today.
Maybe I’m not at the end of a single annus mirabilis. Maybe I’m only at the end of one in a series in an age of miracles in my life, a life graced by joy, by love, by an unlimited abundance. May I never forget that.