One November day in 1978, I overheard someone incredulously relating this bizarre news to a friend: In Guyana, in a sudden flurry of murder and suicide, almost an entire community of American religious followers, their leader, and their guests, had been wiped out. More than 900 people were dead. The cult had recently relocated there from the U.S. to build a Utopian outpost in the jungle, which they named “Jonestown” after their leader, Jim Jones…
I felt the world stop. Unbeknownst to the speaker, Annie Moore — one of my dearest friends from high school — was a member of this cult. Even as I felt the knees of faith crumpling beneath me, my mind screamed for the comfort of disbelief. “No! No! Not Annie! Of all people, not Annie. She wouldn’t. She couldn’t!”
In vain. It turned out that Annie, known to her friends for her intelligence, honesty, compassion – someone who could not turn her back on the truth even if she wanted to –had not only participated in this tragedy, she had helped Jones to organize it, then took her own life. Somehow, she had abandoned her own convictions and surrendered to the whims, and will, of Jones. I sank into an ocean of mourning and disillusion.
* * * * *
And now, 38 years later, in 2016, I awoke once more on a November morning shaken to my core. It took a couple of weeks to recognize why the feeling was so familiar, but now I remember. The shock, the sinking feeling, the helplessness. It’s almost identical. But this time, instead of the charismatic Jim Jones, preaching brotherhood from one side of his mouth and spewing vitriol from the other, we have Donald Trump.
And what of Annie Moore? Today, looking back at me from her place in my memory, I see my whole nation.
I lost my friend. Is she really dead? Please say it’s not so. Please! Come back to me, America.