A teenage Amish boy is coming to terms with the reality of his life.
"To be English!" ran through his mind, over and over.
"To be English!"
(Before continuing, a note about the definition of "English": The Amish speak their own language. Most of their non-Amish neighbors speak the English language. Thus, Amish often refer to non-Amish as English.)
"To be English!"
"To have a car. To maybe fly in an airplane, a jet even. To hear music, real music, whenever I feel like it. To have air-conditioning anywhere I live!"
"To be English!"
The Amish boy with his glowing mental visualizations was plowing a field with a 6-horse team. His immediate physical view was 6 huge hineys with tails centered at the top.
An occasional gas cloud with a characteristic smell reminiscent of largely digested hay reached the boy.
Mostly, however, the boy inhaled scent of freshly turned earth. It was a bright, clean, sweet, sunny day. A pair of meadowlarks sang their approval.
The boy plowed a straight furrow — as straight as his Dad's would have been.
It simply had to be straight.
Even with his mind mostly focused on imagining how wonderful it will be when he turns 18, he still paid attention to the furrow. Otherwise, the boy surely would have heard his Dad's disparaging voice with, "What will people think when they see your crooked furrow!"
At one point along the plowing way, Tommy, the horse on the right edge of the team, twitched his tail in the unique manner he had when he was getting ready to pee.
That horse had a bad habit. He would just stop and pee whenever he felt like it. With the rest of the team continuing their forward stride, this would cause an awful tangle of harnesses and traces.
The other horses could pee while pulling. But not Tommy. He never learned how. Probably didn't want to learn. Or maybe he did learn, once, and decided he was unwilling to splash his legs again — as would happen with the other horses.
The boy averted the tangle by stopping the team.
Tommy peed. The team was brought back up to stride.
"Only 3 more years. Then I'll be 18 and can do what I want."
"To be English!"
The boy didn't think about 3 more years of milking cows, building fences, hauling manure, husking corn. No, his focus was not on his immediate station in life.
Instead, his imagination was on what he felt sure would be his situation soon after he was 18. He felt it in his bones, like it was fate. He would be English.
"But what about Mom!" his mind demanded. The boy wouldn't let himself think about how his mom would miss him and how he would miss his mom. To think about it would introduce too many uncertainties. He might even decide not to be English if he thought about Mom too much.
Mom had always been able to read his mind, even when he was a little tyke. Because of that, he visualized his future only when Mom wasn't around to notice.
Like now. Plowing the field.
Visualizing how things will surely be was a way to keep his mind free of the catatonic mind-numbing boredom so easy to slip into when following horses up and down a field, again and again, watching the earth perpetually being turned over as it was plowed, along with an occasional reminder that there were, indeed, 6 hineys upwind.
"To be English!"
The boy received no warning for what happened next.
He was plowing along, visualizing being English, when suddenly his heart hurt. It felt like an electric shock.
His mind emptied. There were no thoughts. Time did not exist.
But he did feel.
The feelings were the warmest he had ever felt. The feelings he felt were smoothed with Love.
What he felt came with pictures.
He felt an image of Heaven. He felt an image of Love, what Love would look like if it could be seen with eyes.
He felt an image of Purity. An image of Forgiveness. And an image of Certainty so present and pervasive that no iota of doubt could exist.
The most intense feeling, enveloping and containing all else, was an image of Light so bright it would have seared his eyes had he seen it in that way.
It was God. The boy knew it was. With full certainty. It could not be otherwise.
There was no time. Just Light. With Love and Purity and Forgiveness and Heaven. God.
In a while, after however much time did or did not elapse, like a rubber band snapping back, his mind returned.
He became aware of his surroundings.
The horses had reached the edge of the field and had stopped of their own accord.
He quickly turned the horses around to begin the long pull to the other end of the field. His dad, he knew, would not appreciate the horses just standing around doing nothing when there was a field to be plowed.
The feeling of divinity left his immediate experience.
Yet, he knew what he had felt was real. There was no doubt. He had felt and seen Certainty within the Light and there could be no doubt. None at all.
With a sudden compulsion, he wanted it back.
For some reason he did not fully understand, it was most important that he get the Light back.
But how? He had done nothing to bring it on in the first place. It just happened. How could he make it happen again?
With that question in his mind, he looked up from watching the furrow being plowed. In the far horizon was a rain cloud. Its edges were bright with reflected sunlight.
The scene jiggled something in his mind. Or maybe in his feelings. However it happened, the answer slammed into him.
He had to get baptized. Then he could live in the Light!
It became a full-blown, personal, all-consuming quest.
The boy was barely 15 years old and feeling the calling of God. In that moment of his life, he was needing, really needing, to be baptized so he could live in the Light. He felt the need so intensely, so all consuming, that his heart constricted tightly and actually hurt.
There was a problem, though, and he was well aware of it. He was only 15 years old.
Fifteen years was considered too young to make that kind of commitment. Children weren't baptized.
Although he thought he knew what the answer would be, his over-powering quest compelled him to seriously consider asking his dad if he could be baptized now, instead of waiting 2 years.
His dad's standard response to someone asking for a decision regarding something unusual was, "Think about what people would think!" And the idea would die in the bud.
Days later, when the boy finally got up the courage to ask his dad, the answer was as he thought it would be. He could be baptized when he was 17. Maybe 16, if he still wanted to do it then. Some young people did do it when they were 16.
His dad's word was final — as his word always was.
The denied permission did not remove the boy's need. No, not even a little bit.
Instead, the need got stronger. It persisted and clung while he was awake and dreamt while he was asleep.
The need weighed heavily on his soul.
He simply HAD to be baptized. God wanted him!
The boy's need affected his presence of mind.
A few times he didn't hear his dad tell him something, and was scolded for not paying attention.
He inadvertently stepped in cow pies.
Once, among the huge piles of hay in the loft, having gone there to pitch some down for feeding the livestock, he stood there, immobile, breathing the dry hay dust, entranced in his thoughts until his dad yelled at him to hurry up.
There was always the chance of a miracle. His dad might relent and let him be baptized.
If that did happen, it indeed would be a true miracle. It would require a direct intervention by God because his dad lived his life caring more about what other people thought than he did for his own son. Or anybody else. Or even himself.
That particular miracle did not happen. And the boy's need did not lessen.
His need to be baptized was unrelenting. It overwhelmed his sense of himself.
It felt as if he was completely composed of the need to be reconnected with God.
But what could he do?
On a Sunday afternoon, he was pacing about on the front lawn, then along the side of the house and onto the back lawn. Then paced back to the front. And another round. Then again. Back and forth. His mind focused on his need.
Around and around, not consciously realizing he was pacing the lawns, nor even realizing he was pacing at all.
The rest of the boy's family was inside the house, reading the Bible, playing board games, or otherwise enjoying their Sunday-afternoon leisure — the only period of any week with a lengthy reprieve from constant work.
The boy kept pacing. Back and forth. Around and around.
The sky was clear, not a cloud in sight. But the 15-year-old didn't notice.
At one point during his pacing, he noticed where he was — at the kitchen end of the house, on the strip of grass that connected the front and back lawns. On that particular side, the house had only one window, over the kitchen sink. Nobody would be in that part of the house at this time of a Sunday.
He realized he was alone there.
On impulse, the boy dropped to his knees on the grass and implored God to baptize him. His heart opened, virtually turning inside out with his need.
He felt a sprinkle on his head.
His head emptied and his thoughts stopped.
He felt a few more sprinkles. Suddenly, his feelings were composed of pure Light. Like he had experienced before.
In a rush, it rained for a dozen seconds. Then stopped.
His mind came back. His feelings, somewhat attenuated, but still pure, remained composed of Light.
When he looked upward into the sky, he saw a small rain cloud way high up. As he watched, the cloud turned white. It got smaller and smaller until it dissipated altogether.
The sky was clear, the afternoon sun shining directly on the boy.
He felt and he knew with all the certainty of his beingness that he had just been baptized by God, by the whole of Heaven.
His need to be baptized was gone.
The boy felt so filled with Light that he was astounded to realize he wasn't actually floating.
The 15 year old stood there, at the spot where he was baptized by God, a radiant smile on his face, filled with the richest happiness he ever remembered. There was a deep inner joy of blessed Light and Forever Forgiveness.
After a bit, he turned toward the house. As he walked inside, he heard his dad say, "Mother, did you happen to see that? It rained for less than a minute. Must've been a small cloud, but I didn't see it. What do you think it means?"
The newly-baptized boy experienced an even higher surge of joy. Dad had noticed the rain. He knew now that it was more than just his imagination. The baptism was physically real!
As he walked into the living room, his dad looked up from the Bible he was reading. "Hey, you're kinda wet. You must have been outside in that shower. Which way did the clouds come from?"
"I didn't see it coming, Father. It just happened."
His mom looked at him, a knowingness in her eyes. "Son, it's nice to see you happy again."
"I'll go make some of our special tea," she said. "I put the water on a few minutes ago."
The stove was near the sink. The 15-year old realized his mom was letting him know that she had witnessed his baptism by God.
She would keep it a secret. He and Mom both realized that Dad would never accept something so far outside propriety. Not with his worrying about what people would think.
"Thank you, Mother!"
Than a realization hit the boy. It nearly knocked the wind out of him.
He could never be baptized into the Amish church! Not now.
No, not ever.
It would desecrate the miracle God had given him. It would blaspheme God himself. It would be like telling God that His baptism wasn't good enough.
The boy realized, in that moment, that he would have to become English. There was no choice. It was the only way to get out of being baptized by a mortal.
He must leave home as soon as he was 18. Otherwise, Dad and his whole family would be looked at askance because they had a boy of age at home who wasn't yet baptized.
"The choice has been made", thought the boy. "I have to be English. Rejecting God and what He did for me is not an option."
His Mom returned to the living room with the special tea.
The boy smiled at his mom.
She saw something on his face and her own face immediately became troubled.
He never could hide anything from Mom, he realized once again. She knew. And would want to talk to him alone.
"Maybe you can help me harvest more of the tea this week," she said. "It needs to be done soon, before it seeds."
In a moment, Mom continued, "Let's do it tomorrow."