Yesterday my husband Doug and I spent part of a gorgeous summer Saturday on a stretch of the Holmes County bike path; it surely must be one of the few bike paths in the world where bikes share a path with buggies. We saw several Amish families – some on buggies, some on bikes, one foursome on e-bikes!
We drove through the tiny hamlet of Holmesville and learned a fascinating tidbit of history, completely new to me. William M. McCulloch was born near Holmesville and became a U.S. representative from the Piqua area. Historians believe that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 might not have become law without this Republican from Ohio. He doesn’t look much like a radical, does he?
His district was rural, conservative, and more than 97% white. McCulloch’s views mirrored his constituents in many ways: he voted against foreign aid and gun control, and was in favor of prayer in schools. But he was also a descendant of abolitionists, and he had been appalled by his exposure to Jim Crow when he worked as a young lawyer in Florida.
So, based on conviction and character, without any political incentive whatsoever, he lobbied intensely, working with the Democrats and the Kennedy and Johnson administrations to ensure passage of the Civil Rights Act. When he retired, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis wrote him a personal letter of thanks for his integrity.
McCulloch believed in compromise, and once wrote: “The function of Congress is not to convert the will of the majority of people into law; rather its function is to hammer out on the anvil of public debate a compromise between polar positions acceptable to a majority.”
We veered off the bike path to see Holmesville – we drove by the United Methodist Church then Doug pointed to a side street: “Go see what that church is.” I explored what looked like a church on the outside but is a building that houses both the public library and a chiropractic office – with a sign that says, “hitching rail in back.” I am curious about what it would be like to live in a town with a population of 398.
From the bike path, we saw farmhouses, both Amish and “English.” I wonder about the daily life of an Amish person – think of the work! And I wonder if they look at us and question why we choose to live with such hurry, worry and anxiety.
Many people I encounter feel an intense pressure to conform, to curate for themselves lives where everyday there is something clever to post on Instagram. So it was rather refreshing to see dozens of people who are choosing to live in a completely different manner.
Annie Dillard, in her essay, “Living Like Weasels,” writes:
“We can live any way we want. People take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience–even of silence–by choice. The thing is to stalk your calling in a certain skilled and supple way…I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you.”
William McCulloch, at least in one instance, shunned pressure from constituents and party to listen to a deep inner voice; it led him to work tirelessly until a law was passed that would be one step towards justice.
Martin Luther King once said, “The saving of our world from pending doom will come, not through the complacent adjustment of the conforming majority, but through the creative maladjustment of a nonconforming minority.”
Some people choose to live in the quiet of the country, some in the buzz of the city – there are no wrong choices, it seems to me, except these two. Sometimes, we succumb to the pressure to conform and we fail to pay attention to our “one necessity”; we end up feeling lost, and being lost from your authentic self is a lonely place. And sometimes we live in a way that violates our social contract; we fail to remember that personal freedom and concern for others are side by side, like two lanes of the bike path.