Nervous doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt.
Over the past few years I’ve walked through various Unification Church buildings and estates. I’ve wandered the halls of the New Yorker, sat at Holy Rock at Belvedere, driven through the driveway at Jacob House, and stood in the lobby of the center on 43rd Street. But one estate remained that haunted me.
It’s actually the place where this all began. One weekend in 1974, my mother took my brother and me to Barrytown Theological Seminary, and our life as Moonies launched.
I drove past Barrytown nearly ten years ago. It was the first Church property that I visited, albeit from outside the gates. That visit kicked off my effort to visit them all, so that I could integrate the Church and my memories. Many years before that a therapist told me that I had to integrate the Church into my life and my psyche if I wanted to heal. I looked at her, knowing fully that she was crazy, and said no. My life up to that point had been about keeping the Church distant and separate so that it couldn’t torment me.
But she was right. I came to realize that I had to face my boogeymen if I wanted them to lose their power over me. My walking away from the Church had been so absolute that it often felt as if I’d made it all up. Other than my mother and brother, I had no contact with the people or places from that lifetime. Everything was a vague impression, a blurry image. I realized that I had to, and wanted to, make it all real, so that I could be freer from it.
Over the years I have. I have made it more real, and I have been freer from it. But Barrytown remained. I needed to walk the hallways. To sit in the lecture halls. To stand on the grounds. And remember.
So I did. I was traveling home with my family from a vacation in upstate New York, and we detoured across the Hudson River to make the stop. Again, nervous doesn’t begin to describe how I felt.
We pulled up the driveway and parked in front of the main building. And then I made a huge decision. I left my husband to play with my son, and asked my daughter to walk around with me.
We found a door that wasn’t locked, and let ourselves in. (Good news is that I had gotten permission to walk the grounds and the building, so I knew I wasn’t trespassing!) I led my daughter around, telling her stories, sharing what I remembered. “This is the chapel where Mimi (my mother) first knew she had to leave us.” “This used to be the gym where we played basketball. Weird, now it’s a library!” “This is the huge dining hall. Why doesn’t it look huge anymore?”
Other than the stories, all I kept saying, all I kept thinking, was “Oh my God.”
Memories flashed through my brain. Everything was unbelievably familiar, as if it hadn’t changed at all, and also completely different in some way.
It was great to share it with my daughter. To breathe through the memories as she asked me more questions. To look at pictures of the graduating classes of the seminary and hear her say, “Wow. You probably knew some of these people.” To point out the positives I saw (and see) in the Church and hear her say, “Wow. I want to think of it as only bad. I guess it’s not that simple.” To hear her ask, “Do you think Mimi regrets joining the Church?” I couldn’t answer that.
We saw a number of college age students – most likely members – walking the grounds. (The seminary is now also a college.) My daughter asked me if I wanted to grab them, and tell them to run away. I said no, but in thinking it through maybe the answer is yes. It doesn’t really matter. That’s not mine to do either way.
I walked the grounds with her and remembered. I shared with her the thoughts that bounced in my head. I tried to explain what I felt then, and what I felt now. She listened. She learned. She questioned. She held my hand.
I think it’s okay that I shared these stories with her. I think it’s okay that I had her walk around with me while I remembered. I had been worried that I would break into tears, that it would all be too overwhelming, but it wasn’t. I didn’t. I just felt a weird combination of appreciation that I was no longer there, absolute love for my daughter and wonder that she could be experiencing this with me, joy at the memories that washed over me, and compassion for the little girl who had lived through all of this.
Needless to say, walking around Barrytown was an incredible experience. Sharing it with my daughter only made it more so.
But despite our conversations, I’m still wondering what exactly she thought of it.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, and please share this post with others if it resonates with you!