Amish example reflects Morley cowboy's definition

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, October 11, 2006

Some years ago a rodeo rider from the Stoney Nakoda First Nation at Morley taught me a very important lesson in the meaning of a difficult-to-translate word. If he were still alive today, I’m sure he’d point to recent events in a Pennsylvania Amish community and say that’s exactly what the word means.

I first met the late Jimmy Kaquitts in 1966. The robust, jovial horseman walked with a bit of a limp, the result of losing a round with a cantankerous bull in his younger days. He was also a pretty good country and western singer.

Jimmy was quite the humourist, too. One of his favourite stories was about his first day in school.

“I entered the classroom, and there all across the wall above the blackboard were these pictures of all kinds of plants, animals, and other things,” he’d say, referring to the illustrated alphabet cards.

“The first picture was of an apple and the second picture was of a ball,” he recalled. “But the third picture was the weirdest thing you ever did see. I never saw anything like it before. It looked like a horse that had swallowed its saddle!”

This was his introduction to camels – and to the letter “C”.

Perhaps Jimmy’s early encounter with alphabets was one of the reasons he was eager to join the linguistic research team at Morley in 1969. The several dozen members of the team were analyzing their dialect of Sioux, developing a writing system for it, and beginning the creation of Nakoda written literature in the historically oral-tradition community. The team eventually merged with the Stoney Nakoda historical research team in the early 1970s to create the Stoney Cultural Education Program (SCEP), a pioneer in the field of culturally-sensitive First Nations research and learning resources, of which Jimmy became director.

During those years I had the privilege of working with Jimmy and the others as a consultant in descriptive linguistics and translation – and especially Bible translation, which was the primary reason I was invited into the community in the first place.

One day Jimmy sat down with me over coffee to discuss a particularly difficult word he was trying to translate from English into Stoney. It was the word “example,” as in the sentence, “You’ve become an example to them.”

“Y’know, I can’t think of any one word in my language for translating ‘example’,” he said. “What if I try paraphrasing its meaning into Stoney, something like the following?”

He then took the one English word and expanded it into a whole Stoney sentence which, when translated back into English, comes out like this:

“When they look at the way you live, they say to themselves, ‘That’s the way we ought to live.’”

Now, 35 years later, Jimmy’s profound insight is echoing around in my mind and heart a lot as I reflect on the response of a peace-loving Pennsylvania Amish community to the recent murder of five of their children.

A 32-year-old milkman, with no connection with the Amish community, entered their one-room grade school, tied up 10 young girls, shot them, and then took his own life, for no apparent reason other than his self-confessed anger at God over something that happened a long time ago.

There are those elsewhere for whom such evil would have been grounds for taking terrible revenge against the murderer’s family.

But not in this Amish community.

Not only did the grief-stricken Amish folks reach out to comfort and support the murderer’s wife in her own grief and shame, but it is reported that they even made up half of those attending the murderer’s funeral, and further, that they’ve set up two funds, one for the wounded students and one for the murderer’s family.

This was “no token effort,” wrote Robyn Riley in the Oct. 10 Melbourne, Australia, Herald Sun, half a world away. “They genuinely turned the other cheek and literally embraced the family of the man who had so ruthlessly set out to destroy their own. . . .

“What an incredible act of healing. It was almost unfathomable to me that in the midst of trying to deal with such unconscionable grief, this community could find it in their hearts to consider the feelings of the killer’s wife.”

Detroit Free Press columnist Brian Dickerson has gone so far as to ask (Oct. 9): “Am I the only one who thinks the United States would be safer if the Amish were in charge of the war on terror?”

Well, I have a pretty good idea what Jimmy Kaquitts might’ve thought in response to this Amish community’s acts of forgiveness and compassion. I think he’d tell them: When we look at the way you live, we say to ourselves, “That’s the way we all ought to live.”

© 2006 Warren Harbeck

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