Reminders About Simplicity and Community from Jodi Picoult
I recently finished Jodi Picoult’s Plain Truth for one of my book clubs. The book follows the story of Katie, a teenaged Amish girl who hid her pregnancy and is accused of murdering her infant son. Ellie, a cousin and lawyer, ends up moving to the Amish farm as part of Katie’s bail conditions.
If you’ve read other Jodi Picoult books and enjoyed them, you’d certainly enjoy this one. Her books are pretty solid — good characters, good stories, and interesting endings. My favorite still remains My Sister’s Keeper but this came in a close second.
It was fascinating to read about Amish life and culture, and imagine how a girl raised in such a different environment might deal with being thrust into the English legal system. Several times while I was reading, I came across passages that really made me think about the way we do things.
Brimming With a Quiet Peace
While Ellie is living on the farm with Katie, she pauses to watch her cousin brushing her hair.
Ellie watched Katie run a brush through her long, honey hair, her eyes clear and wide. When Ellie had first arrived and seen that look on all the faces surrounding her, she’d mistaken it for blankness, for stupidity. It had taken months for her to realize that the gaze of the Amish was not vacant, but full — brimming with a quiet peace.
I was struck by the image, and upon thinking realized it is because I sitting and just being in peace is something we make much time for. I know that it’s something I don’t do often enough. In fact, if I’m not doing anything I tend to verge on anxiety and restlessness. Do you ever go for a walk and suddenly find yourself somewhere quiet, just enjoying the world? I don’t believe a completely unplugged life is the answer, but it was nice to have a concrete reminder of the value in doing it every once in a while.
Welcoming vs. Casting Out
During the trial, Katie testifies. She does not fully understand the legal system because things are done so much differently than they are in her Amish community. The lawyer asks how it is different.
But the English judged a person so that they’d be justified in casting her out. The Amish judged a person so that they’d be justified in welcoming her back. “Where I’m from, if someone is accused of sinning, it’s not so that others can place blame. It’s so that the person can make amends and move on.”
It hit home because it’s something I see all the time. In news stories, online, even in conversations with friends or coworkers. It seems like our society is obsessed not only with placing blame, but in ostracizing those who make mistakes and in judging those whose choices are different from our own.
I’ve written before about how I miss the sense of community that happens in some neighborhoods. It seems like even when we have neighbors close by, the close knit groups that existed when our parents were young or that exist in small tows are few and far between. I don’t have the assurance that if I need something, I can go next door and find support and someone I can trust.
I believe that people are inherently good, and that when we place blame as a first instinct, we are making negative assumptions when we don’t need to. What if instead of freezing people out when they make a mistake or say something we disagree with, we allowed them to make amends? What if we all tried a bit harder to let go of the past, and look forward to the possibilities of the future? What if we let go of that negativity and let our lives move forward?
Tomorrow, They Will Be With Me
Later in the book, Ellie and Katie are cleaning windows while they await the jury’s verdict. Ellie wonders how Katie can bring herself to do chores for someone else while awaiting a decision that will decide the course of the rest of her life.
Katie turned to me, her yes clear and filled with a peace that made it nearly impossible to turn away from her. “Today Annie needs help.”
“Tomorrow, you might need it.”
She looked out the sparkling window, where women were busy hauling cleaning supplies from their buggies. “Then tomorrow, all these people, they will be with me.”
This simple, beautiful sentiment seems so basic, but also took my breath away. I have friends and family that I know will be with me, and in the last few years I’ve had the opportunity to really appreciate just how much support I have when I need it. I do often wish that my community was less spread out, that I could pull together my far-away family and best friends into one sprawling commune. I’m lucky enough to at least live just a block away from my mom, and it’s wonderful being so close. But I often wish that my best friends were not so far away so that we could offer this kind of support to each other on a daily basis like Katie and her community do.
Sometimes, we forget that things really are simple. One of the things that gets to me on a regular basis about our capitalist culture is that I can’t imagine having millions of dollars and not giving more to support my country, my society, and the people who don’t have as much. We live on far less than that, and we struggle sometimes. We still pay our taxes. We still donate to charity. We still try to help when we can.
I just don’t understand having the means to help, and being so selfish that you don’t want to pay a few more taxes to help people. I can’t imagine working for a corporation whose main goal is foreclosing homes. I can’t imagine working for an insurance company who denies coverage on technicalities. I’m lucky to have found a job that supports my family and provides a valuable service to the community I live in.
I believe that as people, we have a responsibility to be compassionate towards other people. Instead of cutting people down, we should try to build each other up. Instead of judging and attacking, we should listen and ask what we can do to help. I know that I certainly want to be treated that way, so it doesn’t make sense to treat those around me any other way.