Oniontown Pastoral: What I’m Looking For
I say a lazy “yes, thanks” because an honest answer requires a treatise. Rarely, when nobody else is in line, the thesis comes out: “Well, I didn’t know what I was looking for, so I’m good.”
After a polite chuckle, the cashier carries on with no idea that a confessional transaction has also taken place.
I seldom know what I’m looking for. Call me slack, but purposeful searching generally yields frustration. The quotation residing warmly in memory is elusive, impossible to verify. And never go hunting for epiphanies. Those gems hide in desert caves until the seeker has forgotten that they exist.
But when I look for nothing, wonder ends up finding me. Of course, sometimes we’re all assigned a specific mission. There’s no avoiding, for example, the Thanksgiving curse of tracking down nomadic French fried onions in the grocery store for the sake of green bean casserole.
Obligations aside, though, I live like my late dog Watson, who was clueless as to what he was sniffing for, but overjoyed to discover it. What am I after? I’ll know when I find it.
Case study: Parishioner Barb invited me to her neighborhood. About twenty minutes from Oniontown, her neighbors are Amish. She introduced me to a couple of young guys working in their family’s lumber mill and walked me to points of interest, which on dirt roads can be beautiful, but nonchalant: houses with curtains pulled to one side, a sugar shack tucked back in the woods, a one-room school house, and one thing I wasn’t expecting.
A phone booth. The Amish, it turns out, have a nuanced relationship with telephones. They can use them, but they can’t own them. So in her front yard, Barb collaborates to provide them with phone service. The booth, built with their wood and running off of her lines, gets used six or eight times each day.
An obvious question occurred to me: “What sense does it make to use a phone, but be forbidden to own one?” But hush. My faith can’t stand up to logic, either.
When Barb and I returned from our walk, a horse and buggy was parked by the phone booth. The father indulged in technology while his kids waited. The horse worried its bit and nodded as we rubbed its long face.
Since the Amish don’t allow photographs, I snapped only a shot of the booth. It says something about caring for people you don’t quite understand and keeping a spare room open in your heart for guests.
This is why I love Oniontown so much: it always teaches me. A village an hour south of Erie has even helped me to look at home and everything nearby with fresh eyes.
Days ago at Starbucks, I chatted with a boy, maybe six or seven, and his mother. The kid was a whip, his mom cheerfully resigned to having a child able to talk the bark off a tree. His segue between topics was “by the way.”
Our conversation ballooned to ninety minutes and included his Gentleman Claptrap toy, requests for the family shopping list, and some kiddie movie. I was weary, but sensed the approach of wisdom.
As Mom loaded her purse, I said, “I’ve never heard of that movie before.”
He looked at me in disbelief and said, “You have a lot to learn.”
Mom gave him a tame rebuke, but I interrupted: “Well, actually, he’s right.”
And he was. As a lifelong novice, I learn best by opening my eyes and holding out my hands.