Years ago, I lived in western New York, not far from an Amish settlement. Whenever I saw their horse-drawn buggies, I felt prompted to simplify things in my own life. An Amish rocker I bought back then continues to be one of my present-day touchstones for beauty, reverence, and compassion.
So when I recently came across the film Amish Grace, I was eager to see it.
The film is a fictionalized portrayal of what happened in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, on October 2, 2006. On that day, a troubled man, who was not Amish, entered the one-room Amish school there, shot 10 girls, and then killed himself. Five of those girls died immediately or soon afterwards. Five were seriously wounded.
The focus of Amish Grace is not on the violence but on what happened in the aftermath of the massacre.
In the film we see that, on the very same day of the horrific event, three Amish men go to the gunman’s home and offer condolences to the gunman’s widow and her family. They express concern for her young children. They tell her that they hold no grudge or judgment against her. They forgive her husband. They even offer to help.
The world watches in amazement. Reporters ask, “Is the forgiveness real? Or is it an act? If it’s real, how can it be?”
Watching the film, we learn that the forgiveness was real. We learn that the Amish forgive because, from early childhood, they are taught, by biblical readings and example, that they must forgive. But, forgiveness does not always come easily, even for the Amish. In fact, the main character repeatedly screams that she cannot–and will not–forgive the murder of her daughter. It is not until that mother learns that her daughter died showing kindness toward the gunman and praying for him that the mother is able to let go of hating the murderer.
Another powerful scene is when a young girl declares that she too hates the man who did it. Her father patiently inquires about how the hate feels. “Does it feel good inside?” he asks his daughter.
“Not very good,” the child answers.
The father then teaches his daughter about hate and its consequences. First, he acknowledges the hate that she feels. He makes room for it. Only after showing acceptance and understanding of his daughter’s feelings does he go on to describe how “hate is a big thing with sharp teeth. It will eat up your whole heart and leave no room for love.”
As I watched that scene, I understood: Hate can eat up our hearts and leave no room for loving.