Thirty-six years ago this month, 918 people died in Guyana, members of Peoples Temple or visitors in the Jonestown community. Both good-timing, and plans gone awry, left me as one of the few survivors.

From when I first returned, through at least the first two decades, my journey was about survival.  It took all of my energy rebuilding a life, one that I was reluctant to rebuild, at first.  I did live for years in another community, Synanon, where I was taken care of. I got married and my son was born while in Synanon. In the second decade after my return, I built my professional career as a bilingual public school teacher.

In the third decade after my survival, I reached out to my fellow survivors. We shared our pain, our memories, our insights, and our difficult path back to “wholeness.” We networked with most of the survivors, and if we didn’t keep in direct contact, we at least followed how others were doing. During this time, I wrote my book JONESTOWN SURVIVOR: An Insider’s Look. In my own way, I had moved from being me-centered to us-centered. My involvement with the others really enriched my life. During this time, I was interviewed by all media forms, and began making presentations around the country at universities, conferences, libraries, Quaker venues, and other interested venues. I spoke about my zealotry while in Peoples Temple here in California and in Guyana, and my devastation at the deaths of my adopted family, my dearest friends, and my dream. And, I talked about the survival of my friends and myself.

All of this continues, and will continue. My newest effort is to collect the Oral Histories of the survivors and of those closest to Peoples Temple when it existed. These Oral Histories will be available in universities, historical societies, and archives around the country, and will be free to all.

Sometimes, the “obvious” is not so clear. A part that I have missed about this whole experience is the place it has in history – US history, certainly Guyanese history, and maybe even global history. Over these thirty-six years, I have concentrated my efforts at my own being, and my process of moving forward.  Finally – I do see that the destruction of Peoples Temple, the loss of the lives of the wonderful people, and the utter naiveté and reliance on another person – leader in this case – is a hard-earned lesson in the larger universe.

I have been pondering the recent upsurge of interest in all things Peoples Temple. When I present around the country, I find that people of all ages attempt to get closure and understanding about the event by listening and asking questions. I don’t know that there is closure to be had. But, in many venues, perplexed people from all parts of our society come to find answers. For the past five years, I have visited over one hundred events at libraries, universities, book stores, and other settings.  People continue to gather to hear me and my reflections.

Looking at my recent contacts, I must fully face that it is not just my own journey, nor the journeys of the other survivors, or even a remembrance of those who died. It is the “looking at an event” under an historical microscope. At this moment, the BBC, PBS, several independent documentary crews, authors, students from 6th grade through PhD programs, and scholarly researchers are all, STILL, pondering the events of November 18, 1978. I am finally able to stand back enough to see the larger story of Peoples Temple and why it really must be dissected and better understood.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,