Rumspringa: A Study of Wants and Needs
Don’t let the drab black bibs and the bonnets fool you, the Amish have good taste. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. What they lack in fashion choices and modern conveniences they more than make up for in their flair for custom homes with trendy designs. I visited Lancaster County recently and yes, I was one of those people, the touristy outsider rubbernecking from a charter bus as these quiet, private families made their way home (via horse and buggy) from church. They fascinated me. Their pallid homeliness baffled me. Their penchant for volleyball made me laugh. And their gorgeous homes with the wrap-around porches and the detached 3-buggy garages left me a little envious, to be honest. One thought came to mind, “Ya know, at the end of the day, we all kind of want and need the same things.“
The Amish say they don’t ‘need’ the creature comforts of The English, things like electricity and cars. They opt instead for propane and kerosene power, and for relying on a thousand pounds of horse power and a two-wheeled buggy to get them to the local grocery store. But clearly what they do need is the ability to simply turn on the heat when it’s cold instead of chopping wood for a fire. We aren’t much different in that way. They also prefer to hold church inside their homes, so naturally it occurred to me that, indeed, the burden of hosting a gathering of this size would have any woman scrambling at the last minute to hide her clutter before all the guests arrive. Her get-together is no different than Bunco then, I thought. And it all got me thinking about wants and needs.
I had my cable turned off last summer because I was up against a deadline to finish my book. I honestly fantasized about how much freer I would feel at the end of that summer without the intrusion and noise that television brings. Boy, was I wrong. That was the longest, hardest summer of my life and I haven’t forgotten for a minute how many days I sat on my couch and stared at that black screen and ached to be able to turn it on and hear something familiar. Never again. And I’ve believed ever since then that I need the alacrity of political banter that I get from cable news. Ok, ok…I know I don’t need tv, not in the way I need food, but I need it in the same way I need to hear adult conversations with folks who share my interests. Most humans aren’t meant to live in silence and come on!…books and board games are only fun up to a certain point. WE ARE HIVE CREATURES and I know this: anything that is required in order to feel stimulated, energized and human is a need.
People also need a few other things and I learned this most clearly from watching the Amish.
- We need to feel accomplished. Hence, the custom homes the Amish build even without electricity. I could tell, in a very subdued way, they try like we do to outdo each other.
- We need to know that our children are welcomed into their social circles and we are bothered when they get their feelings hurt by others. Traverse the entire globe and you will see that this is true. Mama bears are universal.
- We need to feel attractive. Women everywhere share the same proclivity to compare ourselves to other women, to measure our weight, our age and our sex appeal to the others around us. It goes way beyond just needing a pair of shoes…so far beyond. Would you like to know the first thing I thought when I made eye contact with the Amish woman I passed on the road? “Look how thick her hair is. Ug, why can’t I have her hair?”
- We need to know that we are financially secure and that we will have enough to provide our families with the things they need. Is there anything more stressful than not having enough ____________ (fill in the blank: money? time?) Even when it’s something as vain as braces, if your child needs them it’s human nature to need to provide for it and it’s stressful as hell when you can’t.
- We need to feel loved. That can come from spouses, children, friends, family or neighbors but everyone needs to feel like there is someone in the world who cares what happens to us. Lonely people are suffering, make no mistake. They are existing and they are surviving but they are also suffering.
- We need to feel safe. This is not so much the antithesis to being in danger, but having safety in that the things around us are familiar, comfortable and predictable is a need. This is why we love coming home after traveling. Having a soft, welcoming place to lay our heads is why having a home is also a universal need. Even poor homes and dirty homes and violent homes and homes that aren’t really ‘homes’are still home to some people. We need it.
So what happens if we don’t have these things? Will we die? No, but we will suffer. To me, suffering is the barometer for determining the difference between a need and a want. When the lack of something causes suffering, the kind of suffering that brings deep, lingering sadness and a longing that impedes the ability to function, it classifies as a need.
Then there are wants. I want a beach house. I want to be a full-time writer. I want that pair of $1200.00 Louboutins I saw at Nordstrom.com. But the lack of these things doesn’t cause me suffering. Here’s the thing: my list of wants and needs can’t be compared to another person’s list, which is something people often do when we are all figuring out how to live life right. My kid’s needs obviously include clothes, food and shelter but if you know him, he also needs to be outside, he needs to be around his friends and he needs me to not be angry at him. The absence of any of these causes him legitimate, tangible suffering. He is sad, lethargic, unproductive, aimless, hopeless, and miserable without them. He wants a vehicle, his phone, a lot of money and unlimited data but the absence of these simply makes him pissy, not necessarily void of life. And I can’t compare his list of wants and needs to any other teenager’s. Everybody is different.
I have a friend whose wants don’t even include a phone, a car or a television. She could be Amish I suppose, but her needs include thick, delicious-smelling books, frequent travel and her lap dog. This is perplexing to me of course but I get it. There are boys and men in any direction you choose to look who need sports or ESPN, they need to hunt or fish, they need sex, or they need the thrill of an adrenaline rush. Some women may even need these things, too. Many people have unhealthy needs (these are also known as addictions, my friends): drugs, alcohol, danger, social media, gossip, accomplishment or money and they would all tell you that the absence of their need would cause them great suffering. The common denominator is still this: each person has a different list.
I’ll close out this school of thought with one more need we share with the Amish: Rumspringa. Rumspringa is an Amish practice in which the teenagers in the community are allowed to get a bit crazy for a few years to work out all of their rebelliousness and recklessness before finally committing to the baptism of their church. GET THIS: These parents actually let their kids go buck wild for a few years in the reluctant, horrified way a parent might agree to do this, hoping that their children will check ‘all those boxes’ and then settle down with a mate, have children and lead godly lives. Here I am in English World with all of you, and with every other parent of a teenager around the globe, pulling my hair out trying to stay one step ahead of a crafty 16 year old with a clandestine network of texting and snap chatting that I don’t understand, who can’t resist a fishtail at a stop sign or a Spring Break blowout. These years are nothing short of a test: a test of my patience, a test of my tolerance and a test of just how far I can be pushed before I actually want to smoke or be violent. All along I never realized that being rebellious as a teenager was also a need. I had it, too, if I allow myself the humility of remembering. MOST OF US JUST NEED A RUMSPRINGA! At 16, I needed to be the captain of my own ship, the weaver of my own dreams, the paver of my own destiny in the days when becoming an adult was just as much hormonal as it was chronological. I survived it and my parents survived it, and I passed successfully through it without an incarceration or a pregnancy. My God! If the Amish can weather these years, I guess I can, too. They may not need (or want) carpeting or zippers but they have a whole lot of good old-fashioned common sense we all need. And they need (like me) to trust in God that we will have everything we need to make it through these wild days.