They were at the farmer’s market the other day, as usual. The Amish stood behind their stall, an older man and two teenaged boys, inviting us to look at heirloom tomatoes the size of our heads. My sons surveyed the diverse group around us, a band united in our common love for misshapen produce and hemp soap. We were people with sunburns and short shorts, people with tattoos, people with canes and perms, moms, dads, kids who helped push strollers, kids who needed time-outs.
My middle son pulled me close and whispered, “Why do they always have those weird haircuts? You know, those super short bangs and ear flaps.”
I don’t like whispering but I couldn’t pretend I didn’t know who he meant. I turned away and looked at trays of ceramic beads, tugging my eleven-year-old with me. I told him that there’s a reason Amish men wear their hair in that peculiar way. True, I didn’t know what that reason was, but there was one, I was sure. He thought about that for a moment. Then he turned around again and looked at the teenagers with their overalls and straw hats. They smiled and nudged one another, eyes betraying inside jokes. They were lanky and clear-skinned. The taller boy’s hands revealed nail bitten fingers as he loaded eggplant into a paper sack.
They were just boys with weird haircuts. And they seemed OK.
I watched them, too, pretending to need cucumbers. They made me wonder if it might do a person some good to be intentionally different on the outside in order to reflect a difference on the inside. A person who chooses to look different has already told the world what it wants to know, has already decided that the world wasn’t that important anyway. This kind of person has learned that most of the time it doesn’t kill you to be stared at, or misunderstood, or judged. That the feeling is something you can get used to, that sometimes it makes you stronger.
My family is living differently from many others around us. We don’t wear our differences on our sleeves nor do we wish to make them a bigger deal than they are. Sometimes, though, looking like everyone else on the outside while feeling different on the inside is its own kind of strange. You wonder how long it will take before people discover your brand of other. You wait, bracing yourself for the surprised looks, the head nods or the raised eyebrows.
The Amish don’t have to wait, and they seem to be doing just fine.
I look at those short bangs and smile.
They make me want to be brave.