Over late fall and early winter, my husband and I started binge-watching (horrors!) The Leftovers — an HBO series based on the Tom Perrotta novel. One day a percentage of the world’s population disappears — poof, they vanish from car seats, kitchen tables, classrooms and soccer fields.
The Leftovers scramble about in emotional pain, in a constant search; thus a number of cults pop up, the most prominent being The Guilty Remnants, or GR (ya’ gotta love that name). Guilty Remnants take a vow of silence and renounce all worldly possessions, family, friends. They live together, wander around — empty shells draped in white garb — “witnessing”, which means following people, lurking outside their homes, creepy white shadows, cigarettes dangling & smoke constantly curling up from cold fingers. Unlike “school”, GR does not pretend to care about group members; it’s the end of the world and the cult’s sole purpose is to “Make THEM Remember” … (ring a bell, self-remembering, anyone …)
The Leftovers humanizes all characters; over time even GR’s branch leader, a revolting character named Patty, becomes sympathetic, almost like-able (she’s very funny) as viewers peek into her history. Other cult depictions — The Master or Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene — portray cult members as off-putting freaks. In contrast, my “classmates” were thoughtful, intelligent, funny, well-educated people, with normal life things: jobs, families, passions, etc. The group’s appeal was in large part due to the company it attracted. We found community through engaging in shared common drive to reach higher and dig deeper. Under legitimate circumstances (say, Graduate school) we would have been in very good company. The quality of my classmates, kept me hanging on far past the “help” expiration date — when “help” turns toxic. When cognitive dissonance started rearing up, I look at all the ivy-league graduates sharing my classroom and shove my questions away — after all, these are intelligent people who wouldn’t possibly join a cult!
We would learn about our fellow students’ “only life things” struggles only when they were “asking for help“, or doing what was known as “being work” – “school’s” confessional process. Personal history, emotions, thoughts, perceptions, ideas, weaknesses eventually become social weaponry, used to put them down, when necessary — the “Help” morphed into character assassination to wear down an already tenuous sense of self: soul murder – death by 1000 psychological cuts and bruises. It would be inconvenient for “school’s” student body to be comprised of participants with healthy egos and strong senses of self. How do you convince such souls to “evolve” into guilty remnants — “school” cogs, scoffing at “only life things”, following “evolutionary” directives from “The Source” to “awaken” via recruiting new “school” cogs; cult propaganda replacing authentic voice and person hood-wiped away for the “greater cause” of Sharon’s retirement investments.
Such is the nature of ALL cults – they all practice some version of soul murder. When I look back I see myself believing that “school” was “helping” while it ripped my psyche apart — I was in constant battle with myself. I couldn’t trust my perceptions, thoughts, “negative emotions” — thus I clung to “school’s” illustrious guidance. My “school” experiences only hurt and I remember feeling baffled: why does this hurt? “School” wouldn’t possibly want to hurt me! Like all cults, eventually up becomes down, black becomes white, hurt becomes “help”. Towards my tenure’s end, I may as well have been silent, draped in white garb and smoking cigarettes.
A commentator on this blog recently wrote that I sound like a person who had a Near Death Experience. I had to laugh. Having experienced “school’s” version of cultic soul murder, I now protect those vulnerabilities fiercely. For our human vulnerabilities and imperfections are what bring beauty and meaning into our lives: emotional connections, passions, relationships. They distinguish individuals from each other. And cults take advantage of them. Now that I know how it feels to walk through life as an empty shell, I drink in my imperfect, but cult-free existence, with the intention of embracing all of those things that define my personhood and give my life meaning, squeezing out as much as possible from every minute and each breath.
Your inner voice is The Source, and your Inner Compass points to true north. Listen to yourself, follow yourself, for as author, Maurice Sendek, told Terry Gross in his last Fresh Air interview, Live your life, live your life, live your life! http://www.purpleclover.com/video/2700-we-can-watch-over-and-over-again-and-it-makes-us-cry-each-and-every-time/#.VpNDB08Q3fi.facebook
Please DON’T let cults like “school” hijack your life. For that dash between dates is yours to sculpt; not “school’s” to mold.