Several years ago I was teaching at a private Kindergarten in Northern California. Katie was a shy little four year old with wide doe-eyes and chin length dark brown hair. She was reserved around adults and children she didn’t know, but once she was comfortable she was all giggles and silly humor. Katie had a smile that lit up her entire face.
The first time I met Katie’s dad I did a double take. He was the kind of gorgeous that makes both women and men swoon. He was tall and slender, with smooth tanned skin and shaved head. His age was impossible to tell, he looked perpetually thirty. His face could be as animated as his daughters, but he held it in even more reserve. His deep dedication to Katie reminded me of my father after my parents separated. My dad used to work a four-day swing shift in St. Louis so he could fly back to Chicago to spend the weekend with us. Divorced from Katie’s mom, Mr. Jones lived two blocks away and would walk with her to and from school on the days she stayed with him. Katie was his world.
More than once I overheard people comment on Katie’s dad. Women dreamily wondered what great secret he was hiding. Why he kept so much to himself. Why he always seemed shrouded by a veil of sadness. If it were anyone else, I would have brushed off such notions as foolish gossip. But the truth was, Mr. Jones did have a horrible secret. Well, not a secret exactly, his name did, after all, crop up now and then in the news. You see his father was Jim Jones. That’s right, Jim Jones, Jonestown, Kool-Aid mass suicide. He must have been just a kid at the time. Certainly he wasn’t in Guyana. But his life would always be marked. How could it not? Hundreds of people died at Jonestown. And what does he tell his daughter when she asks about her grandfather? If she hasn’t yet, she will soon enough. The sins of forefathers might not directly fall across the shoulders of their children, but surely the yoke of anger and guilt will always cling.
Several years ago I spent nine days in a workshop with the daughter of an active cult leader. At the time, Molly was seventeen. People that knew who she was, gazed wistfully at this stubborn blonde-headed teenager. They spoke endearingly about her rebellious nature. She described herself as fighting for her independence. Independence from her mother, from this cult her parents had created.
I tried to see her through their eyes. I thought at least that would give her some power. But instead I saw a small little marionette on a string. A well orchestrated life. Her name tattooed on the thigh of her betrothed. At fourteen she had been promised to the son of the cult’s primary financier. Destiny, her mother called it.
Her rebellion was to move out of the homes owned by the cult and into her own apartment. An apartment paid for by the cult. Molly was dating a man she was madly in love with and yet nobody seemed to acknowledge the fact that within months of her eighteenth birthday she was going to leave her beloved boyfriend to marry her betrothed.
Molly lives in one of the wealthiest countries in the world. An enlightened country, one that trusts science over God. One that knows the difference between religion and psychology. Or does it? And would it make a difference, anyway? She was born and raised with the beliefs espoused by her parents and their followers. To leave would be to become alone, isolated in a heartless world when she came from complete nurturing and shelter. To leave was to be just another teenager. To stay was to be the Chosen One, Daughter of the Incarnation.
Molly is married now and praying to God to rescue the lost children of the world. Thinking about it all, I can’t help but pray that maybe someday the world might rescue her from God.