Two Lifetimes in One: Inside and Outside my Amish Community

Guest blog post by Saloma Miller Furlong, author of Bonnet Strings and Why I Left the AmishSalomabyPoppies

Saloma growing up in eastern Ohio.

I often feel like I have lived two lifetimes in one — inside and outside my Amish community in Ohio. I have written two books about the experience of feeling torn between these two worlds. My new book, Bonnet Strings: An Amish Woman’s Ties to Two Worlds releases today, February 3 by Herald Press. I feel that Providence led me to Herald Press, and it is so fitting that an Anabaptist publisher is publishing my story. I love working with the capable and committed community there and I thank them with my whole heart for all they have done to shepherd this book into publication.BonnetStrings

Bonnet Strings is a sequel to my first book that was released in 2011 titled Why I Left the Amish.

I left because of situations that would surely have crushed my spirit, had I not. When I left the second time, my life took a different course from my upbringing and has led to where I am today. I am infinitely grateful for my life.

WeddingOutdoors2David and Saloma on their wedding day.

I was able to marry the love of my life. We raised two sons who are now grown and on their own. I had the opportunity to acquire a Smith College education, which included studying abroad in Hamburg, Germany and an internship with Donald Kraybill. I am on the Amish Descendant Scholarship Fund Committee to help others who have left the Amish acquire an education. And I am doing what feels like my life work — telling my story of what it’s like to have lived in two vastly different cultures. It is a unique story, but it is also a universal one because everyone knows what it’s like to feel torn between their need for belonging and their desire for freedom. This I have learned from people I’ve met along the way who relate to my story in ways I could never have imagined.

My story has also garnered the attention of the makers of two PBS documentaries “The Amish” and “The Amish: Shunned.” “The Amish” aired on American Experience on January 28 and “The Amish Shunned” premieres February 4. (“The Amish” was first aired on American Experience in February 2012).

So I am walking the path I feel I was meant to walk — side by side with David in this journey we call life. I don’t regret the life-changing decision to leave the Amish, and yet there are aspects of my Amish life that I had to sacrifice to have my freedom.

It’s the sense of community I miss the most. I felt this most keenly when I returned to the horse and buggy world for my father’s funeral, twenty-four years after I had left the final time. I saw how the community came in and took care of everything. They moved the furniture around in the house to make room for church benches that would be filled with people in the ongoing wake until the burial. The women cooked food for the people who were traveling to the funeral from out of state. The neighbors took in people from Wisconsin, New York, Kentucky, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Everyone knew their place, and everyone did their part. It was something to behold, how a community of people can pull together in times of need.

Four hundred people attended my father’s funeral. The most poignant moment happened at the end of the service. The pallbearers moved Datt’s body outside the shed in his coffin and opened it up. People from the back filed past the coffin first, and then gathered in the courtyard — the men on one side, the women on the other. The half-circle in the courtyard got bigger as more people gathered there. Finally only Mem and us children and our spouses remained. We gathered around Datt’s coffin to say our last good-byes. Everything became completely still — not a baby cried and not a bird sang. What we believed or what we were wearing didn’t seem to matter in that pregnant, quiet moment. It was as if this community of people who had been there when I was growing up, supported us in our grief, even though I hadn’t seen many of them for twenty-four years. The tears I shed were for the finality of the last good-bye and knowing I would never see Datt or hear his voice again. But the tears were also for what I had lost when I left this community of people who carried the traditions and deep, abiding faith of our ancestors down through the generations. I had broken this cycle when I left. It was a loss no less profound than losing my father.

When I think about the time when my life on this earth is at an end, I realize that I will not have what my parents had. They had a community of people who knew each other since birth and came together to support each other in their grief. They had the Plain funeral service. And they had the burial rites. Six men lowered the casket and then a wooden lid, and finally began filling the grave with earth at the same time that other community members sang the farewell chant in German — a chant that had been sung by our ancestors for more than three centuries. It seemed to me the song was the chariot that carried their souls off to heaven as their bodies were being tucked into their final resting places. It was a simple, profound, and beautiful end of a life.

I am not sorry that I took the path in my life that I felt was right for me. But this came with a price. We make choices in life and sometimes one choice precludes another. My story is about grieving for what was lost when I left the Amish, while at the same time living the life I’ve chosen with purpose, joy, and a heart full of gratitude for God’s gifts of love, grace and mercy.


Do you see any connections to the
difficult choices you have made? 

Saloma’s book is being published today, February 3; be sure to watch the premiere of the PBS broadcast, The Amish: Shunned on February 4. Purchase Bonnet Strings here or at your local bookstore.

Also, you can visit Saloma’s website here, and her ongoing blog “About Amish, here.
For much more information on Amish and Mennonites,