This Friday will be the 33rd anniversary of the day when my family and friends died in Jonestown. This year will be unique – the first, really, when we survivors and friends can gather around our panels with all the names of those who died. The four panels were laid down last Memorial Day, with about 120 of us contributing our money and our love to give a final monument. I am not one to need a plaque, or a headstone. If fact, when I die, I just want to be cremated and have my ashes spread by the wind at Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland. But, this project got so many of us on the same page – the same wave length. It was a product of our comraderie and mutual healing. I love my fellow Peoples Temple survivors and I love that we pulled this off.
Another unique aspect is that we have divided into two gatherings. In the morning gathering, there will be a more traditionally church-like service. I don’t fit well into that group. I am an atheist, a survivor, and one who loved the ideals of Jonestown. I also can no longer just blame Jim for all that happened. We were inspired by him to be the best we could be. After carefully checking him out, we stopped. As he became more and more unstable and paranoid, we weren’t watching carefully enough to see through the camouflage that he and his closest secretaries/mistresses had erected.
The afternoon ceremony is private – only invited loved ones and friends will join the survivors to honor the memories. One survivor will finally add the ashes of two of her children to the plot at the cemetery. It is our holy time. It may be silent, or not. It will be loving and inclusive. We lost so much.
We were all at fault. But, if I had died and others had survived in my place – I would not want the others to be forever torn apart because they survived. Life is precious, and it took me a long time to be able to appreciate it. That being said, my continuing role is to remember my friends, remember the dream we had, and to work to make the world more humane. That is in honor of them, and to honor my life.