in lancaster county, pa


On the Friday after Christmas we piled our over-stimulated, over-sugared children into the car and drove. We were chasing peace and quiet down the backroads, and we found it.

The three-year-old had fallen asleep and the big kids in the backseat had stopped pinching each other when we drove straight into a flock of children.

Startled, I noticed a one-room Amish school on the top of the hill to our right. The schoolday had just ended.

Slowly our car parted a sea of boys in straw hats. Next, we inched our way past a dozen little girls circling the tall figure of their teacher.

One tiny girl with a heart-shaped face tilted her black bonnet to flash a smile through my window. She gave a little jump and waved both hands in greeting. The wind caught her cloak, and I saw a flash of its royal blue lining.

She looked so much like a little bird.

Our car moved on, but I kept thinking how vulnerable they seemed. All those small children flitting like birds on the edge of the road.

I turned back to look again at my own little birds, two of them sleeping, two of them staring outside at the passing farms.

So vulnerable.

I’m not sure I would have given it much more thought, but Sandy Hook is branded on our hearts, and I can’t stop seeing the flashing blue of that little girl’s wings.

How do we keep them safe?

It wasn’t that long ago evil invaded a classroom of Amish children (did those girls also skip and smile like little birds?).

Some say our schools need guards with guns. I have no rational argument to make against that proposal. All I know is how much it hurts me even to imagine it. I love our public schools, but I don’t think I will ever send my children out to classrooms guarded with guns.

I want my children to live unafraid, but I don’t want them to find that courage in a gun.

When I imagine that Amish schoolhouse – when I see it again silhouetted against a blue sky at the very top of a high hill – I see forgiveness. I see love.

I see children who may not be safe but who are free. Free from fear. Free to love the stranger in their midst.

I have always said I believe love is stronger than anything. Stronger than hate. Stronger than death. Stronger than whatever weapon humanity will come up with next.

I have always said what is only now being tested.

Because now I send my children out into the world with only the protection of an old, old prayer.

Lord, make us instruments of your peace.


sweet Elsa

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