Liane Harris: A Life of Dignity and Inspiration

by Mike Cartmell

Liane was ten years old when her mother, Linda (later Sharon) Amos, joined Peoples Temple and brought Liane and her little sister, Christa, into the church. My first substantive interaction with her occurred about a year later, after she had been diagnosed with scoliosis. Her treatment included a nine-month confinement in an old-fashioned linen and paste cast, which covered her body from upper torso to lower thigh. This left her flat on her back until the cast was removed. My position as the Temple youth group leader required that I visit her a few times while she suffered this torment. Candidly – and to be honest, selfishly – I was more than a little reluctant to initiate contact while she lay in her bed wrapped like a modern day King Tut. I anticipated my personal awkwardness as I imagined coming face-to-face with her discontent, pain, and anguish.

When I arrived that first time, she told me she’d lost the cap of her Bic pen in her cast while scratching her back. I spent the better part of an hour, digging around inside the young girl’s cast, trying to fish it out. It was obviously uncomfortable for her – and certainly the prospect had been mortifying for me – but we had a hilarious time removing the offending object. She never lost her composure or failed to see the humor in her predicament. And far from me comforting or consoling the patient, she had inspired the youth group leader. I came away from that first visit with a sense that I had no right to feel so good. In each of the many times I was to visit her over the next several months of her ordeal, she impressed me with her personal dignity and humorous acceptance of her condition.

As a teenager, she became a close friend of my sister, Patricia. Patricia suffered a learning disability, which made school particularly challenging. Her grades began gradually to improve when she entered high school. Surprised and pleased by this development, I was nevertheless curious about the source of Patricia’s new-found success and confidence.

I’d noticed that Liane and Patricia spent quite a little time quietly in her room. At first, I ascribed this to ordinary early teenage “girlish behavior.” As I listened in more carefully to their conversations – alas, as the big brother, I perceived that as my responsibility – I learned that Liane, who was Patricia’s junior by two years, had become her academic coach and tutor. Although utterly intuitive, Liane’s methods were original, innovative, and wonderfully insightful.

In the years since, I’ve often thought of Liane’s “work” with my little sister. My daughter was diagnosed with learning disabilities in elementary school. Her mother and I employed psychologists, coaches, and private teachers – all with advanced degrees – to provide the support she needed to succeed academically. Taken together, and at their best, they were about as good as Liane had been on her own. As I see it, Liane’s untaught pedagogical brilliance would have left my daughter’s more formally educated adult cadre talking to themselves.

My fond memories of Liane are tinged with an enduring sadness that so talented, considerate and worthy a young woman felt such despair on a terrifying November day thirty-three years ago, that her best choice was brutal self-destruction.

(Mike Cartmell is a frequent contributor to the jonestown report. His complete set of writings for this site appears here. He may be reached at Beemermcart@aol.com.)

Last modified on December 18th, 2013.
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