11 MILES / 11 PHOTOS — people and things that caught my eye while trekking through Chicago one sunny morning.
Here’s my philosophy about taking photographs of people I don’t know. As much as possible, I ask for their permission. Not only is this a polite thing to do, the gesture establishes a relationship, which for me is the purpose of holding a camera in the first place. I’ve also learned to be persistent, not in the manner of a telemarketer, but as someone who finds people interesting.
The Amish pose (no pun intended) a special challenge. Consenting to having their picture taken is to the Amish a form of vanity. I respect that. But there I was, sitting outside Union Station, waiting to catch my train home, when these two gentlemen grabbed a length of railing along the Chicago River. Since I wasn’t taking a picture of their faces and it was a very public place, I figured they wouldn’t mind. I’m rationalizing, I know.
For me, just two words sum up the Amish: Nickel Mines. In October of 2006, Charles Carl Roberts entered a one-room Amish schoolhouse in the Pennsylvania community of Nickel Mines. In a span of fifty horrific minutes, Roberts shot ten girls between the ages of six and thirteen, killing five in an execution-style massacre before turning the gun on himself.
The next day, grieving the senseless wounding and killing of their children, Amish leaders cautioned the community not to hate the killer. “We must not think evil of this man,” a grandfather said. Another Amish resident reminded others that the gunman “had a mother and a wife and a soul and now he’s standing before a just God.”
What happened next is hard to imagine. Amish neighbors visited the gunman’s widow Marie Roberts, as well as the gunman’s parents. To demand from them justice? No. They visited in order to offer comfort and forgiveness.
Nearly thirty members of the Amish community supported the Roberts family by attending the funeral of the man who killed and wounded ten of their children. Marie Roberts was one of only a few outsiders invited by the Amish to the attend the funeral of their children. A short while later, the Amish set up a memorial fund for the Roberts family.
It’s worth a lifetime reflecting on Nickel Mines.