JONESTOWN SURVIVOR WRITES: The 34th Anniversary of Jonestown

The 34th Anniversary of Jonestown
This past weekend, I flew up to the Bay Area for the 34th anniversary of Jonestown – November 18, 1978. This year, there was no big event or program planned. Some of us were in touch and planned to gather about three in the afternoon, and then move on to a dinner together. We also planned ahead to Monday to work in the California Historical Society in San Francisco, indentifying photos. CHS has the largest archive of Peoples Temple documents, photos and other memorabilia.

I had been involved, notifying the survivors and family members I keep in touch with. I didn’t really have any idea how many people might come to any of the events. In the morning of the 18th, I was stressed for a few minutes, worrying about it. Then, I had my own epiphany. It didn’t really matter. It wasn’t for anyone else. It was my only way to spend my day. I realized that, for myself, I have to be in Evergreen Cemetery at some point during that day, to be mindful of my friends who are buried there or elsewhere. I need that.

The number of Peoples Temple survivors who attend any of the anniversary events is dwindling. Some have died, some are physically unable to make the trip, some are handling family responsibilities elsewhere, and some are financially unable to come. There are also those who want little or no involvement with anything related to Peoples Temple. Some also prefer to visit the cemetery at a different time, to have the privacy or silence they need. As in all Peoples Temple events and discussions – we are NOT like-minded in most things.

At the same time, there are many new people making contact with some of the survivors. Just in the past few weeks, I was interviewed by, along with several other survivors. A granddaughter of a woman who died in Jonestown contacted me to see if anyone remembered her grandmother. That was her family’s first contact. A gifted student from Sonoma contacted me to interview me for a paper he was writing. A neighbor and a friend of former members came to the cemetery. The documentaries that have been produced raise more questions from people who want a deeper perspective of what happened. They are often played around the time of the anniversary each year. So, more people make contact, wanting a deeper understanding and delving in to the events.

The son and daughter of a man who died in Guyana have started coming each year. They were young children when their father left the country and they never got a chance to know him. They are meeting him through the eyes and actions of the survivors. There are many other relatives who keep in touch with various survivors for the same reason. We are their connections with their loved ones. None of them want to forget the person they loved. I don’t either.

I have even more to draw me. I get to see the other survivors. We have all run the gauntlet, just to survive. We are deeply fond of, and in love with, each other. And that is in spite of who we are. We have nothing to prove or hide. We are who we are today. We lost the loves of our lives and kept going. We don’t live in the past, but we don’t work to forget it. It is an integral part of us. These friends are as comfortable as our old slippers. We are the mismatched socks found in dryers around the country, but when we are together, it feels like we are a complete set. These are the friends I would open my home to at any time – no matter what a mess. We are each others’ chosen family, closer than some of our other siblings. That is a wondrous treasure I have in my life. Words don’t express how lucky that makes me feel.

For me, the connection to Peoples Temple and my life there keeps me involved in the world around me and allows me to simplify. I only care about integrity, for myself, for my family and friends, for my community, for my government, and for the world. It may sound lofty and even impossible. That’s true. But, when I forget for a time, or get sidetracked, it brings me back. I don’t have time or interest in pursuing the physical treasures of the world. I refuse to be numb to humanity. I am transparent to myself and I insist – to myself – that I try to hold true to that philosophy.

And, through all of it, I am strong. I am as strong as I need to be. Nothing can be as hard as what I have lived through, and I made it. We all face many obstacles in life. No one is exempt from them. But, the more difficult the challenge, the more confident we should be each time we conquer (or even live through) it. Slow and steady gets the task finished. I don’t mind being slow and steady these days.

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