John L. Ruth,
Forgiveness: A Legacy of the W. Nickel Mines Amish School
(Herald, 2007)

Now that a year has passed, life is back to normal in Lancaster County, and I don't look at my Amish neighbors with a gut-twisting feeling of agony and sorrow like I did for so long after five of their little girls were taken from them. The girls from the West Nickel Mines School would have grown up to be part of my community, perhaps even become friends with my daughter who was 8, the same age as Mary Liz Miller, who was killed that day.

Thinking about it, I can't see how their parents go on. I don't think I could.

But John L. Ruth, who is a Mennonite minister, explains that these parents have a tool that I just don't. Forgiveness is ingrained in their culture until it is part of the fabric of their souls. They are forgiveness. And so they were able to do it right away and start to heal. I would hate until my heart was rotten through.

But they not only forgave Charles Carl Roberts, their daughter's murderer, they embraced his stricken family, recognizing the shared tragedy for all the families involved.

Roberts, on Oct. 2, 2006, barricaded himself and 10 girls, ranging in age from 7 to 13, inside the one-room Amish schoolhouse after releasing the boys and several parents who were in the room. (The teacher had already fled, immediately after seeing his gun, to a neighboring farm, from which she summoned police.) Although the arrival of police interrupted his apparent plan to molest the girls, it did not stop him from shooting all 10 and himself before officers broke into the room. He and five girls -- Marian S. Fisher, 13; Anna Mae Stoltzfus, 12; sisters Mary Liz Miller, 8, and Lena Z. Miller, 7; and Naomi Rose Ebersol, 7 -- died.

Ruth's book, Forgiveness, is an exploration of the theme of forgiveness, as well as an attempt to explain a culture to whom it comes so naturally. It is not a grisly post-mortem of the horrible murders, although he looks unflinchingly at the facts of that day. A little history of the Anabaptist religions (from which both Amish and Mennonites take their roots) explains who the people are, how they live and why.

Forgiveness does not probe into this very private culture, however, merely giving readers a reference point and moving on. The book is really mostly like a long prayer, a meditation for the rest of us to gain a little strength, and begin to forgive.

review by
Katie Knapp

27 October 2007

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