November 8, 2011

"The Plain Truth" Reminders about Simplicity and Community

I just finished reading the Jodi Piccoult book "The Plain Truth" for one of my book clubs.  The book follows the story of Katie, a teenaged Amish girl who hid her pregnancy and is accused of murdering her infant son.  Ellie, a cousin and lawyer, ends up moving out to the Amish farm as part of Katie's bail conditions.  If you've read other Jodi Piccoult books and enjoyed them, you'd certainly enjoy this one.  Her books are pretty solid - good characters, good stories, and usually interesting endings as well.  My favorite still remains "My Sister's Keeper," but this may be my 2nd favorite.

It was really interesting to read about the Amish life and imagine how a girl raised in such a different culture might deal with being thrust into the English legal system.  There were several times while I was reading where passages really made me think about the way we do things.

Brimming With a Quiet Peace

While Ellie is living on the farm with Katie, at one point she is watching the girl brush her hair.
Ellie watched Katie run a brush through her long, honey hair, her eyes clear and wide.  When Ellie had first arrived and seen that look on all the faces surrounding her, she'd mistaken it for blankness, for stupidity.  It had taken months for her to realize that the gaze of the Amish was not vacant, but full - brimming with a quiet peace.
This paragraph really struck me because I don't think that sitting and just being in peace is something people do often enough.  I know that I certainly don't.  In fact, if I'm not doing anything I tend to verge on anxiety and restlessness.  Do you ever go for a walk and suddenly find yourself somewhere quiet, just enjoying the world?  I don't necessarily think we need to give up all of our computers and phones and devices.  But there is probably a lot of value in remembering to put them down every once in a while.

Welcoming vs. Casting Out

During the trial, Katie testifies.  She does not fully understand the legal system because things are done so much differently than they are in her Amish community.  The lawyer asks how it is different.
But the English judged a person so that they'd be justified in casting her out.  The Amish judged a person so that they'd be justified in welcoming her back.  "Where I'm from, if someone is accused of sinning, it's not so that others can place blame.  It's so that the person can make amends and move on."
This really struck me as well.  I see it all the time.  In news stories, online, even in conversations with friends.  It seems like our society is obsessed not only with placing blame, but in ostracizing those who make mistakes and in judging those whose choices are different from our own. 

I've written before about how I miss the sense of community that happens in some neighborhoods.  It seems like even when we have neighbors close by, the close knit groups that existed when our parents were young or that exist in small tows are few and far between.  I don't have the assurance that if I need something, I can go next door and find support and someone I can trust.  I believe that people are inherently good, and that often there are aspects to situations that we don't consider.  What if instead of freezing people out when they make a mistake or say something we disagree with, we allowed them to make amends?  What if we all tried a bit harder to let go of the past, and look forward to the possibilities of the future?  
Tomorrow, They Will Be With Me

 At one point, Ellie and Katie are cleaning windows while she is awaiting the verdict.  Ellie wonders how Katie can bring herself to do chores for someone else while awaiting a decision that will decide the course of the rest of her life.
Katie turned to me, her yes clear and filled with a peace that made it nearly impossible to turn away from her.  "Today Annie needs help." 

"Tomorrow, you might need it." 

She looked out the sparkling window, where women were busy hauling cleaning supplies from their buggies.  "Then tomorrow, all these people, they will be with me."

How amazing.  I have friends and family that I know will be with me, and in the last few years I've had the opportunity to really appreciate just how much support I have when I need it.  I do often wish that my community was less spread out, and that I could walk next door and find a friend.  It has been nice just living in the same neighborhood as my Mom and having her help when I've needed it.  I wish that my best friends were not so far away so that we could offer this kind of support to each other on a daily basis like Katie and her community do.

Sometimes, we forget that things really are simple.  One of the things that has gotten to me about the Occupy Wall Street movement is that I can't imagine having millions of dollars and NOT giving more to support my country, my society, and the people who don't have as much.  We live on far less than that, and we struggle sometimes.  We still pay our taxes.  We still donate to charity.  We still try to help when we can.  I just don't understand having the means to help, and being so selfish that you don't want to pay a few more taxes to help people.  I can't imagine working for a corporation whose main goal is foreclosing homes.  Let alone dressing up like a (now homeless) homeowner and making fun of people who are losing everything.  I can't imagine working for an insurance company who denies coverage on technicalities. 

I believe that as people, we have a responsibility to be compassionate towards other people.  I believe that instead of cutting people down, we should try to build each other up.  Instead of judging and attacking, we should listen and ask what we can do to help.  I know that I certainly want to be treated that way, so it doesn't make sense to treat those around me any other way. 

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