His Tragedy Gives Me Hope

I know this guy.  A really wonderful guy.  He’s kind and compassionate.  I’ve never seen him angry.  Of course he is a vendor with whom I interact in a professional capacity, but I feel as though, I’ve known him and worked with him long enough that he’s more than just a vendor to me.  He is a friend and as a friend seeing him angry wouldn’t be completely unreasonable.  Yet it doesn’t happen. He’s always positive and upbeat.  He’s always encouraging and supportive.  He’s diplomatic and charismatic.  He’s always very peaceful and I really enjoy dealing with him.

You might wonder why this seems so incredible to me.  Why is it so noteworthy?  You see, my friend has every right and reason to be completely messed up.  No one could blame him if he was a miserable, unlikeable, pitiful excuse for a man.  He suffered greatly in his early days, both due to his environment and directly at his father’s hands.  And later when the world learned of his experience, no one could have faulted him for having been affected by it.

You see, my friend isn’t just any man.  He isn’t just any formerly abused child.  He’s the son of a psychopath.  My friend’s father was a very disturbed, evil man, who manipulated hundreds of people and is directly responsible for one of the most infamous and horrific mass murders of my lifetime.  My friend is the only living biological son of The Reverend Jim Jones and his wife Marceline.

With a name as generic as Jones, you’d never imagine that my friend could possibly be the son of such a sick individual.  I’m only aware of it because a former co-worker, big on over-sharing, told me about my friends history one day several years ago around this time.  Yesterday was anniversary of the massacre that took the lives of over nine hundred members of “The Peoples Temple.”  If you don’t know the story, You can find out a little bit here and here.  I’m not going to recount it in this forum.  The truth is, I wouldn’t have known anything about it if it weren’t for my mouthy co-worker, but as a person who is fascinated with disaster and destruction I couldn’t help but do some research afterward.  Like most people I’d heard the various catch phrases about “the Kool-Aid” (which it was not) but I didn’t know the story, and never before that day was it so personal.

Thirty years ago this week, the disaster took place.  The things I’ve read, and the television shows I’ve seen about the event are chilling to say the least.  I can only imagine what it must have been like in the days and weeks after the mass murder for my friend, (I can’t call what happened suicide.)  Knowing that he had survived this tragedy when so many innocent people died at his father’s proverbial hand, I can only imagine the survivor’s guilt that he must have suffered.  Likewise, I can only imagine the years of therapy it must have taken for him to become the man he is today.

In preparing to write this post today, I did a little internet search for information and I came upon a story about my friend and his appearance in, but disinterest in watching, a documentary type special, a couple years ago, about the Jonestown Massacre.  While I have read stories in the past about my friends life, I happened across this and was, nonetheless surprised:

The younger Jones concedes he went through hell and back trying to come to terms with his ordeal. “I’ve finally found a little peace.”

That peace wasn’t in place at Jonestown. “Then I was always enraged with my father, and I showed it openly,” he says.

“There were even times when we squared off in front of everybody at the Temple, with guns pointed at each others heads,” Jones says.

“But did I help anything? No, I really think I made it worse. I increased the fear and dread in the community. My rebellion was all about making him look wrong. There was little about standing up for the people in the community. I could no longer rationalize the sickness and the wrong of what he was doing, yet I rebelled from the safety of royalty.”

…with guns pointed at each others heads.”

It’s hard for me to imagine my friend holding a gun, let alone, pointing it someone’s head.  Especially at his own father’s head.  How tragic in it’s own right that such a thing should happen.  I’ve never discussed my friend’s father with him.  Part of me would very much like to.  I have many questions that go unanswered, but I just can’t help feeling like, perhaps he doesn’t want to talk about him.  Perhaps, he shares his story and does his interviews with news outlets out of some sense of obligation or responsibility but doesn’t desire to talk about it with people with whom he has a personal relationship.  I can imagine he’s got some incredible, exciting stories to tell.  If it weren’t such a tragic and disturbing true story, I would very much like to hear (or read) them.  But they’re surely not incredible, exciting stories to him.  They are the stuff of his tumultuous early years which is very likely better left buried.

Often, I have thought about what it must have been like for my friend, to grow up in such an environment.  I know, from reading my friends own writings on-line, that Jim Jones was a very disturbed and often violent father.  I know that he was addicted to drugs and carried on in a sexual manner, not appropriate for a father or a husband, and certainly not for a Pastor.  I know that my friend had a miserable childhood that included, among other things, multiple attempts at suicide by over-dosing on his father’s drugs.  I think about these things and I think, “Man!  What am I moping about?  My life was a walk in a park compared to that.”  And then I found this.

The other night, I watched the MSNBC special presentation, Witness to Jonestown.  I wish I could remember more specifics, but as I was watching this show and my mind was drifting on and off of what I was seeing and hearing, I was suddenly snapped back to the reality of the show when I heard a woman say, “You weren’t allowed to disagree.  You weren’t allowed to have a different opinion.”  I have expressed that very sentiment, almost word for word many times, in reference to growing up in Vengeful Mother‘s home.  And today I read the brief article “A cult is like abusive relationships…  You are trapped like a caged animal.”  The interview with Deborah Layton, a survivor of Jonestown, read, in a lot of ways, like a description of my own childhood as I was being raised by VM:

“…plays on people’s insecurities and gives them a sense of order in the world…

“You find a niche… where everything is black and white, where this way is good and the other way is bad.”

The logical consequence of this thinking, however, is that any deviation from the cult leader’s [Vengeful Mother‘s] thinking is automatically condemned. Members’ individuality is suppressed and subject to fear and suspicion…  “It’s an abusive relationship…you can’t extricate yourself without hurting yourself or your family. You are like a caged animal.”

There is a frightening and painful similarity between the way Vengeful Mother controlled me (and in many ways, still does) and how someone like Jim Jones controls the members of his Cult.

Come to think of it, my amazement at my friends ability to heal from his tragic early days also gives me hope for my own future.  Encouragement that I can and will find peace in my own life without the bonds of my previous existence holding me down, preventing me from finding a place in this world where I can fit in and be happy, healthy and whole.

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