From the author:
"On Monday morning, Oct. 2, 2006, while I was in the middle of writing Part IV of the book, I received an email from one of my students. The subject heading read: Re: Amish Shooting. At first, I thought it was a joke. 'Amish and shooting' don't go together. The Amish are pacifists and abide by a strict code of non-violence. They were persecuted during the Reformation for opposing the practice of infant baptism. They believed that only adults should choose their faith, hence they became 'Ana Baptists' meaning those who have a second baptism—or a first one of their choosing. They were killed, tortured and imprisoned for 200 years, but they found religious asylum through William Penn and arrived in Pennsylvania in the early 18th century. Aside from hunting, the Amish don't carry guns and do not keep them in their homes, which is why the world reacted with such shock and horror when an intruder violated their sanctity by shooting 10 Amish girls execution-style. He killed five of them, then killed himself inside the school house.
It was the worst and most deliberate act of violence against the Amish since they arrived in North America. Having spent 18 years of my childhood in Lancaster County, I couldn't believe what I was watching when the news helicopters were flying over the same fields and the same farms and the same schools I had depicted in the book. In fact, the very road that the shooter had driven down that morning, my characters had traveled many times. Two years prior, I had written a scene in which five Amish sisters are killed in a hit-and-run buggy accident, which is the crux of the whole story. The reaction that I imagined the Amish community to take was now playing out in real-time in 2006. The Amish immediately forgave the shooter, reached out to his family, and attended his funeral the next Friday while they were burying their own daughters.
Many people couldn't understand how they could forgive so quickly, but what they do not understand is that forgiveness is the way the Amish survived their persecutors. It is one of the first lessons an Amish child learns, "Forgive the sinner, but not the sin." Meaning, the act itself is unforgivable, but the person is forgiveale. Let go of any attachment to the act itself, move on; however, and this is where so much of the confusion remains for us, the Amish are human and they suffered from their losses, and most likely, they are still processing their grief. Forgiveness is a way for them to heal faster, though they experienced the same depth of pain and loss as anyone else. I remember reading a criticism about how they forgave too easily and too quickly. It was in an editorial from the Boston Globe—which was later reprinted in a book co-authored by Donald Kraybill, the Elizabethtown College professor who became the spokesperson for the Lancaster County Amish when the world wanted answers about their reaction to the tragedy. The book, Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy, co-authored by Steven M. Nolt and David L. Weaver-Zercher, deconstructs the tragedy and how the Amish dealt with it, illustrating their psychology and the history that has shaped it.
At first, I thought I should stop writing the book because no one would want to read a 'fictional' account of something that had just happened. For at least a month, I sat at my desk and cried for those girls and their familes and all the first-repsponse people involved in the aftermath. It took a full hour each day to face the pages and continue to the end. But through the writing, I completed something in my own life and was able to see how much I needed to reach out to the drunk driver who hit me and hope that he knew I had forgiven him and would find a way to forgive himself. It seems much easier to forgive others, but when it comes time to stop beating ourselves up for our mistakes, we're often reluctant to let go.
I knew this young man had a life to live without being haunted by what had happened June 6, 1994, and I knew that I had a life to live without defining myself by those events. I have never answered to the tag of a drunk driving 'victim.' I am a survivor. In many ways, getting struck was a gift and it set me on the course of a writing life. I wasn't going to let it stop me from moving forward with my plan either— which was to move to a remote village in Hungary to teach English for a year. I left New York with a huge brace on my leg and crutches, and eventually walked again on the puszta, the great plain of southeastern Hungary. I wanted to be free from the power the past had had over me, and writing the book gave me the key; though nothing would have prepared me to see so much of the plot become real life, and affect real people. I had to find a way to trust that it was meant to be, just as the Amish were doing."