Norway & Brattleboro

Norway & Brattleboro

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I don’t typically follow sensational news stories. For starters, I don’t have television. And news journals are too hefty for me–both in size and content.

I enjoy the local paper now and then, especially for the classifieds and the obituaries, but my entire day can be thrown by one sad extraneous story from across the country. I’m hard-wired that way.

Occasionally, there’s no avoiding the news–either because it’s posted all over Facebook–as with the Kasey Anthony saga, or it is so compelling that I can’t ignore it–like the massacre at the youth camp this summer in Norway.

I’ve continued following that story because I know that Norway treats its criminals with greater dignity than others societies; and I suspect that this gross violation of humanity will challenge that distinction.  I hope it doesn’t.

I’ve never been in favor of the death penalty, and never wished death on anyone until the summer when a cousin’s young friend was raped. I remember thinking that it was a good thing that I was not the officer who pulled over the car and found the missing nine-year old girl stuffed under the rapist’s back seat.

I would have strangled that man on the spot; And this realization made me more grateful than ever for our judicial system–in that it doesn’t allow people like me free range with grief.

After the atrocity in Norway, I was heartened to see a quote shared on Twitter by 18 year old, Helle Gannestead, who had been among those attacked at the youth camp:

“When one man can cause so much harm – think how much love we can create together.”

I find the same spirit alive in Brattleboro. Despite the pain that Richard Gagnon’s act has inflicted on so many, the response of this community has been one of true beauty. Though no beauty can replace life that is stolen or take away the heartbreak of those most intimate with the loss, there is hope that something good can come of that which hurts us.

Though I can’t explain it, I’ve always had a heart for those labeled “criminal.” Perhaps this is due to my early steeping in the tender teachings of Jesus, or that as the oldest of eight and later an elementary teacher, I could see that even the most hardened criminal was at one time an innocent child.

There is a quote that I know to be true even though the truth of it confounds me in the face of such horrific acts as rape and murder:

“The real measure of a society is how it treats its prisoners.”

This truth runs tandem with that which I also know to be true–that we cannot separate ourselves from our problems; that there is no way to simply get “rid” of them:  The toxic chemicals that we dispose of leach into our water and air. The children that we abandon in cities grow up to hate us. The elders that we dispose of in institutions become ourselves.  The hurt that we stuff inside one day acts out.

Though we cannot change what Richard did, we are responsible for how we respond–in our community and in ourselves.  Like Norway, I think Brattleboro is up for the challenge.

“The world is not respectable; it is mortal, tormented, confused, deluded forever;
but it is shot through with beauty, with love, with glints of courage and laughter;
and in these, the spirit blooms.” Santayana


Kelly Salasin, August 18, 2011

For more on the BFC tragedy, click here.

For more on Norway, watch below:

2 thoughts on “Norway & Brattleboro

  1. I dream of this reality myself, perhaps in part because I was born and raised in Brattleboro. Beautifully written Kelly and as is typical expressed from your gifted heart.


  2. Just read all of your posts Kelly and had to respond…

    The disruption in the force has traveled all of the way to Idaho. I had just come out of mourning from leaving my friends in VT and now I mourn for my vision of Brattleboro. It’s not supposed to happen in VT and not in the Co-op.

    It’s not supposed to happen anywhere!

    There is a fragile line that people walk. To be so angry, to act out of rage and give up all the potential that life has for you

    Who does Richard confess to, bare his soul to? Who is now his community? Richard’s choices have been narrowed for all of the years that he remains on this earth and his actions have abruptly ended any that were ahead of Michael.

    I am going out to sit in the sun. It’s a choice I get to make of when I will go out and where I will sit and what I will eat and how I will use my hands and have my face licked by my dog and lay down next to Marty for another night. To be held and spoken to with soft words.

    I pray that there is no dark spot in my heart that will get tested in some unforeseen way. That I never get so blinded by some deep rage that would ever lead me down the path where Richard went. For like your son, I never knew a murderer before, I just knew a guy who always had a slow smile and a great recommendation for a good cheap red.


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