Laura Johnston Kohl

Over the past five years or so, I have tried to have a visual image of the person I am. For most of the five years, I have thought of myself as a black-eyed susan, or a sunflower. To explain the design a bit more – I thought of my physical shape in the middle with petals out in all directions for the different parts of my being. I am a parent – one petal. I am a wife of 33 years – one petal. I am a Quaker – one petal. I am a Jonestown survivor – one petal. I am an ex-Synanon resident – one petal. I am a bilingual teacher – another petal. I am an activist – yet another petal. I could come up with about twenty well-defined petals that are part of me.

My last few months have merged the petals in a way I didn’t notice at the time. I have reconnected with many distant Synanon friends. The first was at a Celebration of Life for a fellow Synanon person. Then, a few weeks after that, I joined a dinner party of many other Synanon friends. These Synanon folks I met up with were important to me for various reasons while I lived in Synanon, and for a time afterwards. One of them interviewed me and cleared me to move into Synanon in January 1980. One was my supervisor in Synanon. Another was the first person to harangue me about writing my own book. Another was my exceptional doctor in Synanon and for years afterwards. And, another helped my family buy our first house after Synanon.

If these two events were “stand-alone” events, I don’t know if the impact would have been the same. But, no. The last event happened on a weekend when I was interviewed by an author at the Jonestown Exhibit at San Diego State University Archives. From that interview, I went over to a Quaker celebration party at the home of a Quaker elder – one of my favorite people in the world. After that party, I joined my husband at the Synanon dinner party. The whole day was a fluid motion merging the lines of the distinct groups. And, somehow at the end, I felt that the self-delineated and artificial lines separating the different decades of my life were erased.

It wasn’t a blinding insight. In conversation with a Quaker friend, as I talked about being the flower with different petals, I just realized that visual had morphed into a different one overnight. I had become an avocado, with all lines erased and everything mashed together. It felt like a welcome integration of the parts of my life.

BASIC INFO: I was part of Peoples Temple 1970-1979 (after November 18, 1978, I lived communally with survivors for another year)
I was part of Synanon 1980-1990.
I became a wife, parent, teacher, Quaker 1990-2000

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