Down Time – Productive After All

Turns out waiting for a cracked rib to heal takes longer than I had anticipated. I guess I was expecting a quick recovery. While the pain is gradually diminishing, I’m realizing that the more I rest, the faster it will heal. Early on I think I did too much and then was set back a bit. I am easily fatigued so it’s not difficult to rest; I can fall asleep at the drop of a hat. Normal things like bending down to pick up something or reaching up to get something off of a higher shelf are not pleasant experiences at the moment. My body quickly speaks out! I’m not someone who needs to be continuously active but I do like to feel productive and I don’t right now.

A few books I’ve read and recommend:

The silver lining is that I have had more time to read. I thought I would share a few books: Educated, An Amish Girl in Manhattan, and Dinners with Ruth.

Educated, written by Tara Westover, came out in 2018, I believe. I just came upon it in the library. Apparently, it was on Obama’s list of best books of 2018 and Bill Gates really liked it too. It’s a memoir about growing up in an isolated town in the mountains of Idaho in a survivalist Mormon family. Tara experiences physical abuse by a brother and emotional abuse and neglect by her hyper-religious and paranoid family. All of these factors makes her journey to the University of Cambridge and then Harvard University not only unlikely but profound as she unpacks all that she internalized growing up and tries to stay connected with her family, even while being told she’s going to hell and her parents trying to manipulate her to come back to their religion and way of life.

I told a friend about this book, only to find out that she and her daughter had read it when it first came out. How did I miss this one? This friend and I both grew up in Mennonite homes and although our stories aren’t as severe, there are parallels with some of the rigid (and crazy – in my view) thinking.

She recommended another book along the same vein, An Amish Girl in Manhattan by Torah Bontrager. This book made me profoundly sad. I had heard many similar stories in the past about sexual abuse being rampant in Amish communities and when I first moved back here, I looked into doing psychotherapy with Amish women, and even met with one of the Amish who left his family and who Torah mentions several times in her book. I learned from him how difficult it is for Amish, and especially Amish women, who by their very nature of being female, are further down in the hierarchy of power, to seek help. Their community’s bishop has to agree to it. He told me of the day, after being in therapy for a while, when he realized he was going to say out loud, an original thought of his. He was a grown man and had never articulated an original thought to anyone. He didn’t tell me what that thought was but he shared that his therapist’s response was simple and it was validating enough that he knew then that he had to get away from his community. It was an extremely difficult process and if I remember correctly, it took years before he could talk to and spend time with his children. He’s in a better place now and if I’m not mistaken, he spends quite a bit of time with his children. I remember him telling me about, and Torah writes about it in her book, the 1972 Supreme Court case, Wisconsin vs. Yoder, that allowed Amish to pull their children out of public schools on the grounds of religious freedom and put them into Amish-only schools taught by Amish teachers who hadn’t gone beyond 8th grade themselves. This has further isolated Amish children. Torah’s story includes severe physical and repeated sexual abuse and her journey, like Tara’s in Educated, also leads her to the halls of an Ivy league school, Columbia University, where she begins her long, slow and difficult path of discovery, healing and insight.

A bit about Anabaptists

Mennonites, the religious community I was raised in, was part of the Anabaptist Movement, as were the Amish. They broke away from Luther in the 16th century believing in adult baptism rather than infant baptism, thinking baptisms should take place when one was old enough to make that decision. I was taught that Menno Simons was the leader of the group and there were some who thought they were becoming too “worldly” and, led by Jakob Amman, broke away and were called Amish. Beliefs in common were (are?) simplicity, pacifism, being servants of Christ, and taking the Bible literally, to name a few.

By the time I came along, my family and the members of the Mennonite church I went to dressed like most of the rest of the world with the exception that the women wore coverings -that’s what we called them. (Picture above.) They were like white mesh head bonnets. The women wore them all the time except when they went to bed. The idea was that they should be worshipping the Lord all the time, not just on Sundays in church. I’m not sure when my mother stopped wearing hers. I think when I was in elementary school. Anyway, reading this book brought up all kinds of emotions, sadness and anger about how crazy and arbitrary many of the rules are in religion. (I intend to write much more on this another time.)

The third book I’ll share is Dinners with Ruth which I was most excited to read. I was on a waiting list through our local library and I got the notice that it had arrived while I was reading the Amish book. It’s also a memoir, written by NPR Legal Affairs Correspondent, Nina Totenberg, about her long friendship with Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsberg. While it was a really good book with lots of insights about Washington insiders, our court system, and friendship, when a Seattle friend asked me what I thought, I said, “it was really good but after reading two books about religious crazies, their mostly privileged lives were rather boring in comparison.” I say that tongue-in-cheek. It was a really good book and I’d highly recommend it!

After writing this piece, I realized that my down time has been productive after all and I added that to my title. Not productive in terms of bringing in income or producing a tangible project that can be seen or touched, but in enriching my mind, learning more about people’s lives and the varied ways of existing in this world. The ripple effects of what I do with all of this information has yet to be seen…but my mind is percolating…

6 responses to “Down Time – Productive After All”

  1. A cracked rib does not sound fun. The books sound interesting though. I haven’t read Educated, but I’ve heard it’s good. A friend thought I would like the small town element of the book. Sounds good. Will have to check the other ones too. Thanks for sharing.


  2. I see. Yes, Educated and the Amish Girl book are both memoirs. I guess I’m wondering, more related to the Amish Girl book, if any of what the author writes about was true to your mother’s experiences. It can stir up a lot, I know. I’m not recommending she read it, was just curious. Thanks for sharing, Brian.

    Liked by 1 person

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