When I was fourteen, I became involved with a right-wing fundamentalist cult. No one knew it was a cult at the time. Sure, it seemed a little weird, especially to my liberal intellectual parents. But they stayed open-minded in the name of free will. They wanted me to explore. They wanted me to be free.
Years passed. My parents sent me away to prep school. They hoped that through separation, my devotion to the group would die a natural death. It didn’t. I left for college. Even that didn’t change my mind. I longed to be with like-minded believers so I left Johns Hopkins to move to Kansas where I joined the ministry’s intensive leadership training program. There we learned everything from how to pack our bags in a hurry (in case of Armageddon) to how to use a firearm. Rumor had it that there was a cache of weapons at the ministry headquarters in case of an attack by a left-wing militia.
Mom visited me at Kansas but I never let onto her about the sexual abuse and hypocrisies I was encountering. She was an unbeliever after all. I was told I would die if I ever divulged the group’s secrets to an unbeliever.
She knew something was wrong, as mothers do. Yet instead of coming after me, she remained a constant presence in the background. She wrote me letters. She visited when she could. She became familiar with the literature. She never hounded me. She was as neutral as water dripping on a rock but just as powerful. When the time came for me to flee from an abusive marriage with my two small children, Mom was there to open the door, no questions asked.
I believe in free will. There were plenty of opportunities for my mother to force me home, to “kidnap” me and pry my eyes open. But that would have been like forcing open the eyes of a kitten and I would have been blinded to a part of myself, never again to regain it. That part would have been trust – trust of her, my mother and trust of myself, of my ability to figure life out on my own.
My mother is deceased now. But I shall always be grateful for how she believed in my freedom to decide for myself, for how she trusted in the power of the heart to be free. Even a cult can’t keep out the intensity of that light, even if one’s eyes are shut.
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