I’m flying home. My family and I, we left everything behind: our belongings, our kin, our troubles. We’re flying to the Promised Land! As I look out of the plane window, I see only clouds, but then – there it is! – I see Guyana. It’s unfamiliar terrain down there below me, but it’s green and lush and inviting. We’re one step closer to home! Soon we will be landing, and then we will begin our journey to Jonestown itself, to home. My heart soars at the very thought!
In the jungle, we will have peace! We will have beauty! We will have things made by our own hands! Jonestown is the Promised Land, and I cannot wait to get there!
I’m flying home. As I returned to Chicago from the memorial service on May 29, I looked out of the plane window at the unfamiliar terrain below and was struck by the thought: this must be what it was like for members of Peoples Temple as they traveled to Guyana and Jonestown. Not just seeing the unfamiliar, but beautiful scenery. Not just enjoying the clouds or loving the way that being in a plane makes one feel weightless, but the feeling of excitement that I felt upon going home.
I have found that no matter where I go on vacation, I always enjoy returning home to Chicago. For the people on those planes going into Guyana, they must have felt what I did one hundred times over, maybe one thousand. They were going “home,” too, but this new home was unlike any other that they had been in before. This home was theirs, something some of them had physically built, something that – perhaps for the first time in their lives – they felt part ownership in. Jonestown was made and sustained by their own hands and sweat. They made their own food and clothing, they made soap and toys. They would be providing for themselves, by themselves. There would be no more poverty in Jonestown, no classism, racism, sexism. Jonestown would be egalitarian, truly a “promised land.” They would eat and work and sleep and celebrate their lives together. Going down to Guyana was reason for excitement, and a prophecy fulfilled.
And for some of them – maybe most of them by the end – it would eventually go wrong. It might have been immediately, or days or weeks or even months. It was the overbearing presence of Jim Jones that did it – those who worked and lived in Jonestown when Jim Jones wasn’t there felt that it was heaven on earth – the paranoia and erratic behavior that increasingly oppressed the community. But that came later.
I’m not writing here about the promise broken. I’m writing about the promise anticipated, the joy and hope of a Peoples Temple member en route to the “Promised Land.” If you remember that, you realize they were no different than any of us who is looking forward to finally going home.
(Bonnie Yates is a regular contributor to the jonestown report. Her other writings in this edition are Again and Drawing the Line: The Blame Game. Her previous writings are collected here. She may be reached here.)