Where does innocence come from? These are questions that I not only have grappled with ever since I can remember, but many authors and poets have wrestled with since the beginning of time. It is something that can be lost in a positive and healthy fashion, but sometimes it can be taken away tragically or violently. But what I have come to understand more and more is that innocence itself — found in children, cherished by parents, and longed for again in adults — can be found thriving and growing in the concept of community.
My Innocence Lost by Daisy Ann Rhodes
And what all of us long for from our community is a sense that we will be safe, that we will be there for each other, and that — if threatened — we will be able to return to a feeling of a more innocent day and time. The adults of Peoples Temple were longing for community, by which I mean a community for their children to grow up untouched from the innocence-robbing American culture of the late s.
Many of the members had been through serious struggles in their lives. They had lived through the Civil Rights Movement, as well as the Vietnam War, and just wanted a place to get away from that daily feeling of dread and oppression. Day in and day out, the community that was Peoples Temple — not the Jim Jones version of community, or the way Jonestown is often presented in documentaries — was one hell bent on bringing, restoring, maintaining, fulfilling, and resurrecting innocence in all their members.
It took a tragic event in the life of the high school where I have been an educator for over 18 years to bring all of this home to me. A student committed suicide this past month, shaking the core of the community I call home. This was a tough lesson for all of us to wrap ourselves around, and it was also extremely tough to explain to my own sons, now 13, 11, and 9 — all fast approaching high school age. There was so much to take in as a community — the whys? Complicating the task was that this occurred around the same time that we had to deal as a nation with the tragic shooting in Las Vegas.
Our small community was reeling. A magical moment happened at our high school, when the choir put on a beautiful performance dedicated to our student, which they adjusted to dedicate to those lost in Las Vegas. This performance left the audience in tears.
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It was something that brought our community out of its shell and into the realm of understanding. This is something I also see when I study the community that was Peoples Temple. Here was a group of people, just like the small town I live in, just like the people in America shaken by the shootings in Las Vegas, who were longing for a sense of innocence. A search for a time when they could be themselves, and where their children could grow up and lose their innocence in a healthy, natural, maybe even joyful way.
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