Sunday, June 7, 2015

Recruited .....

In the summer of 1980, I was (temporarily) a student at New York University.  Between classes, I often sat on a bench in Washington Square Park, alternately studying and people watching.  One day, I was approached by a clean-cut fellow who appeared to be in his mid-20's.  Hovering a few feet behind him was a young woman of about the same age.  She watched, smiling rather nervously, as the man started to talk.
He greeted me and said that they were members of an eclectic group of people who enjoyed music and art, were interested in social activism, and hoping to make new friends. He invited me to a potluck dinner the next weekend and gave me the address in Brooklyn.  I thanked him and said I'd consider it; he and his companion then headed towards a bench where another student was sitting by herself. They started talking and, I assume, she was extended the same invitation.
I admit, I was curious. I was also a little concerned for my safety, but assumed everything would be fine, since serial killers don't travel in pairs, right?
Good food, good music, good friends -- what could possibly go wrong?

So, a couple days later I hopped on the subway and headed to Brooklyn, where I easily found the address. Several other people had already arrived, and the apartment was full. As we ate, our hosts circulated, making the guests feel welcome and at home.  As the meal concluded, they announced that they wanted to show us some slides. In these pictures, we'd see them participating in all sorts of fun activities that we, too, could be part of if we joined their group.  At one point, someone started singing Annie's Song, and soon they all joined in, grinning widely.
The pictures showed them in front of city landmarks and in the countryside.  In every shot, they were smiling, hugging, happy. As the slideshow concluded, our hosts told us that they'd be making a trip to their country retreat in a couple weeks, and that we were all lovingly invited to accompany them.  It would be peaceful and relaxing -- a brief respite from the hectic busy-ness of the big city.
Again, they gave us contact information and asked the same from us. As we trickled out, we were given hugs, and wishes for health and happiness.
They were all so nice and yet, I was uneasy.  Even as a fairly na├»ve 23-year-old, it didn't feel right.  It felt ..... off.
My suspicions were confirmed a few days later.
One of the dinner hosts had told me he was a glass blower, and worked out of a street-front studio space that was provided by "a generous man".  That studio was located near where I worked part-time, so I strolled by to take a look. When I did, I realized that the building had been in the news recently as the "generous man" who owned it was, in fact, Sun Myung Moon.
Yes, I'd been recruited by the Moonies.
My first reaction was disappointment, because this potentially important factoid had been kept a secret from the dinner guests.  Of course, I understood the reason for the secrecy.  The Moonies were fairly universally considered a cult, and most reasonable people don't  knowingly join cults.  Yet still, I wished they'd been more upfront.
My second reaction was a bit surprising, even to me, because -- despite who I now knew these people to be -- I actually considered joining them on their weekend retreat.  I was confident I'd be able to resist their brain-washing techniques but, just in case, I'd leave written permission for family to kidnap and de-program me if necessary.  No worries -- everything would work out fine.
Ultimately, I decided to decline the invitation, and never saw any of the group members again.  It was the right decision, no doubt, but why had I even considered joining them to begin with?
The best answer to this, I believe, is that I was still desperately seeking the love and acceptance that had been missing in my life for so long.  Feeling inherently unlovable due to the multiple abandonments and abuse I'd experienced, I still longed to be part of a family, to feel wanted, to feel loved.  The Moonies were experts at spotting emotionally vulnerable potential recruits, and convincing them they'd find a home in their group.  I read somewhere that they referred to this as "love bombing", and that's truly what it felt like at dinner that night so long ago.
 I sometimes wonder what my life would be life now had I run off with them and allowed myself to accept what they were offering.  Granted, their "love" was a bit skewed and probably not unconditional, but it was surely more than I had my life otherwise.  Would I have been happier with them?  Would I be happier now?  Or would it simply have resulted in one more disappointment to add to an already long list? 
Obviously, I don't know the answer, but I sometimes wish I'd been foolish enough to take the chance.