So many beautiful friends and family you have that embrace your company.
Transforming ourselves through the 5 wisdom energies
He soon took a sledgehammer to the established Aylmer church rules. Within weeks, it was suddenly decreed that all eyeglasses must be wire-rimmed or rimless. No more plastic frames, too worldly. The God he served was a furious, frowning God, who just might possibly be placated if only increasingly demanding and difficult sacrifices were made.
In the end, it would all depend on how hard you had tried. How willingly you bore your cross. On the things you had done. And so he set out on a mad quest, in earnest pursuit of a plainer lifestyle.
Paint the inside of your buggies black, wear a broader brimmed hat, with the brim turned down all around, no cowboy wannabes. Girls and boys could no longer play volleyball together. No ball playing at all on Sundays. Carpenter crews could no longer travel to jobs in motor vehicles, but had to drive a horse and buggy, thus limiting their range. A patient populace bore with him, and indulged his whims. But the youth increasingly seethed as the weighted yoke of his ideas and demands choked the life from their few precious rights and fragile freedoms.
It did not take him long to find his stride as a preacher, either. And oh, the man could preach. This, I think, is true. I know it is for me.
I can still see and hear him, pre, when we lived in Aylmer, on a Sunday morning, rising slowly to take the floor. Somber, head bowed, hands clasped at his chest. Opening chattily, as if he were talking directly to you and you alone. And from that small building block the man would weave and thread and stitch, in fantastic vivid detail, in mellow lilting tones, an elaborate yet meaningful tapestry of a lesson to be gleaned and learned and applied. All delivered extemporaneously, with no podium and no notes.
And we all sat there quietly, even those of us who half-despised the man, and listened and drank it in, mesmerized. Even those most stridently opposed to his agenda, among whom I count myself as a minor figure, rarely questioned his sincerity.
His methods were another matter. He knew what he knew without the slightest hint of doubt or hesitation. And in those heady early years, he did not much care who might disagree with him.
Whoever did that was wrong. He did not brook resistance or foolish chatter. Any hint of opposition was considered rebellion. And rebellion was a sin. He freely expressed his opinions when and where he felt they might be needed. Once, right in the middle of a sermon, he paused, and asked whoever might be chewing gum to dispose of it. He felt chewing gum in church was disrespectful and wrong. He then resumed his sermon. I never was sure, but I thought my brother Steve may have been the culprit.
Or one of them. I was sitting on a bench with my friends Hank Wagler and Raymond Miller. Right in front of the preachers. Elmo delivered the main sermon that day. We boys were restless and fidgety and perhaps did not give our full attention to his words.
Again, right in the middle of the sermon, he stopped and directly addressed us. Told us to stop fidgeting and behave ourselves and quiet down. We froze in our seats.
And fumed silently, chalking up one more black mark against him. But he recognized and lauded the good things, too, the little things that might easily have been beneath his wont to notice. One Sunday, my friends and I approached the dinner table for the noon meal. We were hungry and this was already the second seating. The table was filling up. A quick count told me that I would be the last one seated. The ones behind me would have to wait until the next seating, a good twenty-five minutes.
I suddenly realized that my friend Luke, a year older than me, was behind me. As I approached the last seat on the bench, I stopped and motioned Luke ahead of me.
He swooped into the seat. I turned around and walked out-side with a herd of unlucky boys to wait for the next table. Unbeknownst to me, Elmo had witnessed this small scene unfolding and was touched. He told my father later that afternoon what he had seen, and praised me. My father later told me what Elmo had said. And it felt good to know that he had seen and acknowledged my small unselfish act. He pestered the youth defined as any single person above 16 years old.
Once, the youth had planned to rent a bus and go visit the Detroit zoo for the day. Together as a group. Just the young unmarrieds. The night before they went, Elmo sent word that he and his wife would go along as well. He was told the bus was full. They would set chairs in the aisle of the bus. And so they went along. After arriving at the zoo, all the youth piled out eagerly, ready to head out for a fun day at the zoo.
Unfortunately, most of them neglected to put on their hats and bonnets. Elmo, the man who showed up at his pre-baptismal meeting sans hat, sternly called them all back to the bus. And told the boys they must wear their hats. And the girls their bonnets. What they had suspect-ed was confirmed; he went along only to make sure everyone behaved as he felt they should. He was not popular with the youth. And yet he reached out to them.
He idealistically believed that there should be no generational gap, that teenagers should hang out comfortably with their bearded elders. Have things in common. Share hopes and dreams. As if such a concept would have a prayer of success. I imagine they attended somewhat sullenly and did not much participate in the discussion. I was too young, but my older brothers who attended still speak of those times. They may even still have the very copy of the book they used.
Those were turbulent times. He was a busy, busy man. Writing, preaching, leading, admonishing, improving. Always something going wrong, someone going astray, a brother who needed admonition, church rules that needed tweaking, more stringent guidelines to be implemented.
Lisbet was always content in the background, always smiling and always kind. She bore his sons and quietly mothered them while her husband rushed about with all the answers, pouring a lot of heavy concrete, writing and preaching with great authority on the proper methods of discipline and correction in raising children.
In the early to mid s, the Aylmer community expanded rapidly in fame and influence. Became widely known through its publications of Family Life and several lesser periodicals. That golden age saw probably the greatest collaboration of visionary Amish intellectuals ever assembled. They sailed boldly through uncharted waters. What they were doing had never been done before. Joseph Stoll who lived in Honduras, but continued his written contributions. And of course, Elmo Stoll, whose meteoric rise as a preacher and writer accelerated each year, as he traveled about and preached in many distant settlements.
From the outside, Aylmer was viewed in awe by thousands upon thousands of admiring sheep as the great shining city on a hill. From the inside, it was, well, something less. Striving always to stand tall as an example to lesser communities that allowed such wickedness as tobacco growing, smoking, bed courtship and other horrors, the Aylmer leaders came to believe their own polished rhetoric of the perfect church.
And how it could be attained. They felt Aylmer was about as close to perfect as one could get. Never satisfied, they plunged about this way and that, in a chronic state of mad instability, inflicting ever-increasing burdens on their groaning flock. Although his heart never really left Aylmer, my father realized that none of his younger sons would stay in the faith unless he moved from that place most eventually left anyway.
The Aylmer leaders publicly supported him, but privately they must have wondered why David Wagler could not control his wild, unruly sons. Our departure date arrived. As the loaded tractor-trailers slowly lumbered down the dusty gravel road toward the highway, Elmo Stoll paused and looked out across the fields from his Pathway Publishers office window. The next Sunday in his sermon, Elmo described in dramatic detail how he stood there and watched us leave, how the flood of memories flowed in unbidden and the tears suddenly welled in his eyes and trickled in unchecked rivulets down his cheeks.
The second and final essay on the Elmo Stoll saga will be posted some-time later this summer. Probably around late July or early August.
Comment by Katie Troyer — June 7, 8: I wonder how Elmo became such a robust wielder of power in an office he obviously did not welcome initially. Great insider description of his ordination! Perhaps he saw at Aylmer that the truly remarkable improvements over less commendable Amish practices would never take hold elsewhere if, on his watch, they were accompanied by laxness toward tradition in general.
Comment by Miriam Iwashige — June 7, Will be anxious to read of what you have to say about the rest of his life. A family who lived there had a daughter die. Her grandparents were from our church so alot of us went. We started out by helping to sing, in 4 part harmony. After the first verse Elmo got up and said in their church they all sing in unison and would we all please do the same! All giants of history are accompanied with flaws to some greater or lesser extent. I do not like hagiographies that try to pass as biographies, but I also do not like hatchet jobs that try to appear as objective memoirs that glorify the writer while demonizing the subject.
The great people of our lives and our collective human history are not plaster saints but for the most part, they are not media constructs who really did nothing notable. Each one may have had a huge influence on history, a few even having some positive impact despite their greater negative impact, but I will not define these creatures as great. However, after seeing their warts, I still admire them for the things they did right at the right time. He invented interior environment air conditioning as we understand it today and invented wet bulb psychometrics which is a string of words none of you understand but is the key to all the comfortable during the summer buildings you enjoy.
Since I am a heating, ventilation and air conditioning design consultant, I am Dr. Now after this buildup, where to place Elmo Stoll? I could see a power-mad demagogue using the hammer of guilt and Amish mind conditioning to abuse and scare a herd of hapless sheep while massaging a massive ego.
I could see an enlightened man who understood that the ability of the Amish church to spiritually reproduce itself depended on certain preconditions, and he needed to use his office of minister and later bishop to fight the good fight to recreate these preconditions. After having the mantle of history thrust on him, he rose to the occasion. One was encouraged and the other was not. In his later years things were not so cut and dried for him, and I expect he wished the cement had not dried so hard and unchangeable like a lot of us do.
I clearly remember him preaching in his early years that he does not believe he will live to be an old man, and he was right. One incident about Lizbet; one time Elmo was preaching and his little son no idea which one was making some kind of monkeyshines right there in front of Elmo, this man was trying to put a stop to the monkey-shines and keep on preaching at the same time. Like any good mother, Lizbet came to take him with her.
Elmo did not let her, and people felt bad for her. I think you gave an accurate discription of life in Aylmer at the time. To this day some ex-Aylmer people have a hard time appreciating the Pathway publication. It was the city on the hill with shining lights, but oh, beneath the surface a lot of things were happening.
I know this is late. That was one of many disappointments in my life. One thing I can do is… is to listen in on you all talking about Elmo. Your essay on Elmo Stoll is well done, fascinating. I did not get to meet him till , so you shed light on a period of his life I know very little of. And the ghosts kept pushing themselves forward, into my mind.
There she was, way out there. And here I was, back where our future dreams together had been launched, not all that many years ago. I brooded and drank and brooded and wrote. How a book ever came out of me that summer is more than a miracle. The date approached, her new wedding date, I mean. And as it got close, I had to get out of the house. There was a little gathering going on that I figured to attend.
Some old historic Amish house in Daviess was going to be torn down soon. And that Saturday, the place was open to all who wanted to walk through one last time. Anyway, I just figured. Go hit the road and drive. Maybe you can get your head cleared. It was a real good trip, more than I could ever have hoped for. I connected with the Freundschaft that Saturday, and hung out with friends and relatives. I thought of it now and then, but only fleetingly. Ellen is getting married this afternoon.
Overall, it went better than I had dared to hope it would. And the next morning, early, I headed on back east toward home. I got back late that afternoon. And I walked into my home. And it was one of the strangest things I have ever felt. The ghosts were gone. There was no vestige, no hint of their presence.
Whatever had ever existed between Ellen and me, that time was past, now. It was so clear. Now she belonged to another man. Coming from where I came from, this was a very strange place to be. But there I was. And sometime later that year, Anne Marie began the last leg of her long journey home. And sometime in the spring of , I think it was, Ellen flew in to see her good friend and say good-bye.
We spoke over the phone a few times, leading up to her trip back. And she told me. She needed to pick up a few things from my house, and she also asked me. Would I consider giving her the Bosch Mixer that my Dad had given to us as a wedding present? She sure could use it, for her own cooking. And yes, I know what a Bosch Mixer is.
You can have it. And we arranged a time, one evening after work, that she would come around and pick it up. I went straight home from work that afternoon, and waited. And soon, a little SUV zipped into my drive. I looked out and watched as Ellen got out and walked up to my house. I opened the door, and we hugged a little awkwardly. She sat at the kitchen table, and I stood and leaned against the sink. We were both a little nervous, of course we were. But we chatted right along.
My book was just coming out that June, so she had all kinds of questions about what it had taken to write it. She knew from our past that writing a book had been one of those hopeless dreams I figured would never happen. So she knew how important it was to me. And we talked along about it, as I dragged out the Bosch. We packed the Mixer and a bunch of attachments into a sturdy cardboard shipping box she had brought. She would UPS it back to her home out west. Since that time, I think, Ellen and I have looked after each other and cared for each other about as much as two people coming from where we came from could have.
We emailed briefly now and then, about this and that. When Anne Marie passed away, I immediately called her. And we grieved together and talked about our memories of our friend.
I would be OK if I randomly ran into her and her husband, Tim. But then I always poured a little bit of concrete. I will not deliberately go to a place where I know they both would be. A day like that is a day that will never come. And time drifted on. Two years ago, Mom passed away. We communicated both times. I promised then that I would come and go with you. Do you need me to? But I told her. Janice will be there, and she can walk beside me. Thank you for remembering. And when Adin passed last September, I called her.
And we simply spoke for a few minutes. I remember how you tried hard, so hard, to reach your Dad, I said. And he never would let you. He always rejected you. I never forgot how that was. And we grieved, there, for a few minutes, at the tragedy of all we had seen together. And we cried a little bit together, too. And that was how things stood, back last November when I went into the hospital for what was to be a routine, one-day procedure.
The night before, I got a call from Ellen. Somehow she had heard about it. I got some issues. That was a mouthful. I had no idea of what was about to come at me. Over the next ten days, I found out. I was right about one thing, though. I never was afraid, going into any of it. Ellen texted me a few times, there in those ten days I was in the hospital. And I always talked back about where I was. She was a nurse.
And she cared that I was getting through and getting better. And then I got out. And all of life looked a whole lot different than it had before.
I will walk forward into this new place, I said to myself. One of the first things I did was cut out unnecessary noise. That was a new free little path for me. And life moved on, like it always does. I looked forward to it, and walked forward into it. We have remained close friends, through all the years of all the crap that me and his sister went through.
And this year, the invitation rolled in like it always does. It happens out on his patio deck every year. The formal tables set up.
He cooks up a great feast. And all the guests dress up in white. This year, I looked at the invitation. All other years, I was all ambivalent in my response. Paul and I both knew I had no intention of showing up. But not this year. This year, the invite came. And this year, I looked at it in a way I never had before. I will do this. I can wear my white pants, a white shirt, and my seersucker jacket. And my little white hat. I think that would work out just fine.
This is the new me. And I told Paul. I think he was a little surprised. But then, a few weeks later, he had something to tell me. But somehow, he told me. She and Tim are going to be here. Are you OK with that? And right there it was. The day I had told myself would never come.
I would not walk deliberately into a place where I knew my ex-wife and her husband would be. It was always the outside English people who got caught up in traps like that. And I remember hearing of such a thing here and there, and wondering how it could be.
How can any former husband and wife be at the same place in peace, especially when a new spouse is right there, too? And I wrote back to Paul. I plan to be there. The party was in late July. And as the day approached, I got to thinking. It might be real hot that evening, too hot for a suit coat. And then the week arrived. And man, was it ever hot all week. The sun scorched down every day, and the hottest temps of the week were forecast for Saturday afternoon. And then the day arrived. It felt so strange, walking up to a new door like that.
I felt no stress at all, and no flashbacks came at me all week. The actual morning dawned, and the day crept by. And by four I was dressed and ready. White pants, seersucker shirt, white hat. I pulled in right at five and parked. I was a good bit early. I had planned it that way. So I figured to get there early and get some visiting done. I walked into the garage, where Paul greeted me. I turned toward the house. And she came walking through the foyer and out into the garage.
The woman I had married almost precisely sixteen years ago as I write this. But she was still as beautiful as ever. Her smile was exactly as I remembered it. She greeted me, and her voice was the same, too.
I smiled and spoke back. We walked to each other, and we hugged each other hard. And it seemed like it all washed away from both of us in that moment. The horror and the hurt and all the pain and darkness of long ago. I swore back when it happened that the pain of it would sear me inside forever.
It bubbles up now and then in the sadness of all the memories, and all that was lost. But you can reach a place where you look back and realize you have grown beyond any point you ever thought you could have. And you can walk calmly through a new door as it opens, in a day you swore would never come. We chatted for a minute, then walked into the house.
In the kitchen, Malinda was bustling about with two helpers, preparing the vast feast that would be served outside, later, on white tablecloths. She smiled and welcomed me. Ellen and I sat at the table, then. I kept glancing around. We are Facebook friends, so I recognized him.
I stood and held out my hand. He gripped it hard. We looked each other in the eye and smiled. And he sat with us, and the three of us just talked about a lot of things. And when Ellen wandered away for a few minutes, Tim told me almost shyly. I thanked him for taking the time. And soon the other guests began trickling in. When Ellen came around, I introduced her, too.
This is my ex-wife, Ellen. Some people looked startled, but mostly everyone seemed very OK with everything. The evening came at us, then. As we were getting seated, Ellen asked me. And we sat and ate together, the three of us. Me and Ellen and Tim. He and Malinda had prepared an enormous and delectable feast. Then the main dishes, which included grilled salmon, lamb chops, and steak. The food was beyond delicious, the wine robustly red.
And sitting right there, I sinned grievously again, with my feasting.