By Suzanne Woods Fisher
"Better than counting your years is making your years count." Amish proverb
During the bitter winter of 1882, a group of eleven from Roseto, Italy packed their bags and set sail for the New World. After arriving at Ellis Island, they made their way west to a little town in Pennsylvania. Soon, one group after another arrived from Italy. They bought land to farm on a rocky hillside and built closely clustered houses. They constructed a church in the center of town and named their tiny, self-sufficient haven "Roseto."
Fast forward to the 1950s. A physician named Stewart Wolf heard something unique about Roseto, Pennsylvania: the citizens died of old age. Nothing else.
That information piqued Wolf's curiosity! Heart disease was epidemic in the United States—the number one killer of men under the age of sixty-five. Skeptical, Wolf started to investigate this claim. He studied death certificates. He analyzed physicians' records. He took medical histories and constructed family genealogies. He studied dietary practices and genetic factors. In Roseto, Wolf found no suicide, no alcoholism, no drug addiction and very little crime. No one on welfare. No one with ulcers. But he couldn't figure out what contributed to such unusual well-being for an entire town.
So Wolf studied the town's social structures. Many homes had three generations living under one roof. Grandparents were valued members of the family. There was a quiet pressure to avoid ostentatious wealth. Instead, the Rosetans lent a helping hand to others in need. The church was the center of family life and created a unifying, calming effect on the town. Wolf concluded that community had a great deal to do with an individual's life span and quality of life. This was radical thinking for the 1950s medical community. Conventional wisdom attributed life span to genes, diet, and exercise.
As I read about the Rosetans in Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers: The Story of Success (Little, Brown), I realized that their secret to well-being was a strong emphasis on faith, family, and community. Those three pillars insulated them from much of the ills of the world.
Lands sakes! I could have been reading about the Old Order Amish. The fastest growing population in North America, the Amish have held strong to enduring traditions for over four hundred years. They have a much lower rate of heart disease than do average Americans. Lower depression rates, lower cancer rates. They maintain one of the strongest and most stable family systems in our country. The elderly are highly esteemed, cared for in the home. Over 85 to 90% of the youth remain in the church, choosing baptism as young adults. The Amish, like the Rosetans, seem to be doing something right.
So, should we all go Amish and give up our cars and microwaves? Should we move to Roseto, Pennsylvania and take up Italian? Of course not! But there's so much we can learn from their example.
Faith, family, community. Those pillars can be our pillars. Our churches, our children and our aging parents, our neighborhoods.
What about you? Are you intrigued by the Amish? Have you noticed the growing shelf of Amish fiction books at your favorite bookstore? What is it about them that interests you? Or what about Amish fiction befuddles you?
Join me as I regularly blog stories about the Old Order Amish, and share their secrets of simple, joyful, healthy living. You don't have to 'go Amish' to incorporate their principles into your modern, busy life.
About Suzanne Woods Fisher: She is an author of bestselling fiction and non-fiction books about the Old Order Amish. Why the Amish? Well, Suzanne's grandfather was raised Plain. She's always been fascinated by her gentle, wise relatives. Learn more about Suzanne, her books, and Amish Wisdom, her weekly radio show, by stopping by www.suzannewoodsfisher.com. And please leave a comment!
Photos courtesy of Bill Coleman.