In the spring of 2016 I plan to be among a small group of individuals – mostly former members of Peoples Temple – returning to Guyana. It will be almost 40 years since the Temple ended with the shocking deaths of more than 900 people in Jonestown. Each individual has various reasons to want to return, but I believe the predominant one is for further healing.
As I think about my life in the years that have passed November 18, 1978, I can say that over all I have done well and have proceeded with life, even as I carry the many memories of my experiences as a Temple member, the memories of those who died, and the tremendous lessons that have come out of it all.
As talk about a return trip began earlier this year, what seeped into my awareness was a feeling that I had left a large part of me behind. It feels like the 21-year-old who left Guyana in January of 1979, six weeks after the tragedy, still remains there in the way that some people speak of spirits hanging around a place after physical death has occurred. So as odd as it may seem, I feel that the older “me” is going to pick up the younger “me” and bring her home.
I will also be able to say goodbye to those who died in a way that I could not before. It was just all too much to take in at that time.
Rather than being “sent” there, this time I will be going on my own volition, with clarity as to why. I will be going there for myself and not for some external cause to which I had turned over my existence.
Finally, I hope to have some share dialog with Guyanese citizens. I know that they were seriously affected by what happened in their country, and I have felt bad about that for a long time. Rather than going there and representing the Temple, this time I will be going there representing myself. I would like to have open and honest conversations about all aspects of what we were living and anything that they need and want to talk about. Though it has been a while since the tragedy happened, I know that they have needed healing too and hopefully dialog between us can help facilitate this.
My focus on legacy and creating positive things out of negative experiences, has me asking questions like: What positive things can emerge out of this difficult piece of history? What are we now inspired to create in life as we emerge a step wiser from hard lessons learned? Surely the trip back there next Spring will be revelatory and provide some meaningful answers.
(Jordan Vilchez was in Georgetown, Guyana on November 18, 1978, but her sisters and nephews died in Jonestown. Her other article in this edition of the jonestown report is Legacy Warrior. Her earlier articles may be found here. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her Living Legacy Now website is here.)