I met Tim Carter about 12 years ago. It wasn’t until after we had known each other about a month that he told me of his horrific experience that took place deep in the heart of a beautiful jungle in South America. As Tim unfolded the story, sheer horror and fear came over me. Honest fear that I might have ended up with a “whacko”. Someone I couldn’t trust.
Then came the anger. Oh, I had so much anger towards Tim for allowing it to happen. I had so much anger and hatred towards Gloria Carter, a woman I had never met. How dare she? How dare she stand there while they poisoned a baby? Her own baby, no less.
Tim spilled out more of the tale. I wanted to cover my ears and run. I didn’t want to know more about a man who could be involved in an experience so vile, a man who could stand there and let his wife and son die. I sure as hell didn’t want to know more about a baby’s last breath fading from his tiny body while in the arms of his “uncaring” mother who would put her “warped” beliefs before her own flesh and blood. But I didn’t cover my ears. I didn’t run. I listened as more and more of this murderous event invaded my brain.
I listened as Tim told me how he was sent out of Jonestown at that last crucial moment. Why Gloria had no choice. How Tim walked around the corner of the pavilion, a few seconds too late to save his wife and child, leaving him only with the worst feelings of hopelessness and guilt a human being could feel.
As I took in all these words, tears began to roll down my face. I was ashamed. I was ashamed and embarrassed at my own blindness, at my own ignorance. How could I blame Gloria? How could I blame Tim? Where did the blame actually lie? Then, it hit me like a ton of bricks. While the people in Guyana were responsible for getting themselves there, and Jim Jones was the one at fault for giving the orders to make the murders take place, I was also to blame. I was the one judging these people that had gone through such a terrifying experience, all while trying to better themselves and the world. For this, I am truly ashamed and apologetic.
The words of a good friend of Tim’s flow through my mind even today, as I look back on how I reacted to the whole Jonestown story. The words still ring so true: “It’s not what someone says to you, it’s how you react.” I reacted in a natural, but shameful way to this story. I reacted the wrong way. It was a humbling, gut-wrenching eye opener.
No, it wasn’t my fault that Jim Jones had the day planned for a while, as the records and facts show. It wasn’t my fault that Jones had a drug problem. It wasn’t my fault that Jones was, to sum it all up, evil. Or, was it? I did, however, come to one conclusion.
I had come to the conclusion that it is my fault to a certain extent, being one in a billion in the sea of humanity, because humanity, as a whole, isn’t right in the world. But, it isn’t only my fault. It’s yours too.
The basic philosophy of Jonestown was that everyone should be treated equally. When we, as human beings, finally become so aware and hold that concept in the feeble, judgmental core of our souls, when it is embedded into the fiber of our being, when we don’t have to have discussions as to why things like this happen, when we don’t judge someone else as they tell us about an experience that is so horrifying, so traumatic and the only thing we can think of is “well, I would never do that”, iy’s then, and only then, we won’t have any more Jonestown tragedies. We won’t have any more African American, Hispanic, Asian, Indian, poor or elderly folks wanting to find their utopia somewhere else, even if it means falling under the hands of a madman to try and achieve it. We, as a society are at fault when some of our own fellow human beings have to go through what these people have gone through just to gain a more peaceful existence, when we make life so miserable for some, they have to run to a place such as Jonestown.
It’s not what we know happened, it’s how we react. We know about tragedies like the Jonestown murders, but what do we do to learn the lessons from them? Nothing. We know that our only hope for human survival is to adopt Jonestown’s goals – however flawed the execution – to live as one. But what do we do to push towards that very goal? Have we truly learned and apply the lessons that come from such a tragedy? Or do we sit in judgment and laugh at those involved, making their lives even more miserable?
As I hear more and more of this story, as I meet more and more of the survivors, as I transcribe the FBI tapes, as I am blessed to be more and more “involved” in the whole Jonestown story, I have but one thing to say: thank you! Thank you to all of the survivors. Thank you for telling your stories so that we may learn. Thank you for sharing your hearts, your souls and your lives. Thank you for going through that ghastly experience to try and make the world, OUR world, MY world, a much better place to live in. Thank you for sharing your love, your kindness, and your compassion with our brothers and sisters in the world, for you have done what so many of us could and should be doing. And thank you, above all, for your honesty. Thank you, for teaching me, and hopefully others, these same valuable lessons.
Shame on ME for being judgmental of you and your actions! For this, I truly apologize. I apologize to the Tims and Glorias for even doubting their acts as parents. Shame on US, as fellow human beings, for being so judgmental of them and their actions! Shame on US for not doing more, but sitting on our haunches while the black man up the block had three racial slurs directed at him today. Shame on US for letting our government treat poor people wrongly, while the richest of the rich receive more tax breaks. Shame on US for the elderly woman around the corner from us not receiving the help she may need to make her bed or perform daily duties. Shame on US for not doing more while the abusive parents of the world continue their abuse to raise other human beings like Jim Jones. And, shame, shame on us for killing people in the war by the hundreds, for absolutely no reason other than we too are following a lost leader, while simultaneously judging folks in Guyana for doing the same thing.
The people who were a part of the Jonestown/Temple experience actually did things to make the world better. They fought for injustice everywhere, for everyone. They fought for equality while the rest of us talked about it. They received nothing but traumatic experiences, guilt and nightmares. They’ve received humility. We ask them to tell their stories for our sensationalistic books and movies so we can make our money off of their experiences, then laugh at them, mock them for being sheep and “drinking the Kool-Aid”, giggling about how we would never have done that. Yes, the biggest shame of all is that we not only do nothing to make the world a better place, but that we mock those who do.
So, as I step down from the soapbox, I want to apologize to all of you who have had to bear the nastiness of myself, and my fellow human beings and just simply say thank you and I’m sorry. You are some of the bravest, most courageous, most loving and definitely some of the most giving people I have ever had the pleasure to meet. Hang in there. Someday, just maybe someday, we will all achieve our goal of a big utopian planet. For now, you may be known as “whackos”, as “sheep”, as “cultists”, as “weirdo’s”, but you have definitely made the right choices on what kind of human beings you want to be. I want to be like all of you when I grow up.
And so I thank you, most of all for the lessons you taught us, including the most important lesson of all, how to give ALL of yourself, even while paying the highest price of all in losing your loved ones, to achieve a better place for all of us to coexist, for the world is a little better each time this kind of love is shared and these lessons learned, even if only learned by one more person.