Richard at The River Garden

Richard at The River Garden

Note: This post was written in the year following the murder at the Co-op. In the comments that ensued below, readers suggest the naivete of–Richard at the River Garden–saying that I do not understand the magnitude of his act.  What about the Rwandans? 

Finally, there is news of Richard Gagnon, and the trial that we have been dreading–and waiting for–so that we might put this nightmare behind us.

But alas, the news is that the trial is tentatively set for: fall–more than a year after Richard shot and killed a fellow co-worker in our community co-op.

The new store will be open by then, and perhaps the old one will be demolished; but of course, there is no demolishing the loss we have suffered.

It’s true that we can now walk into the Co-op, and just for a moment, forget that it ever happened. We can almost step foot into the wine department without thinking of Richard. We might be able to complete an entire round in the store without a thought of the back office where blood was shed. (Who can imagine having to work back there?  Wouldn’t we be the first to volunteer to begin the demolition? With a vengeance.)

My heart aches when I think of this trial and all it represents; and all it avoids.

Of course, Richard was mentally ill when he shot his boss. Anyone who shoots another human being must be mentally impaired. The level of guilt assigned by the courts is irrelevant to Michael Martin who is dead. Forever. Michael’s sentence can never be shortened, and neither can his family’s. There is no compensation for a life that makes any sense. Not years or a lifetime or even another death.

My idea is this: place Richard in the center of the River Garden each day where the rest of us, one by one, can come to meet him. Each will share his loss. Some may cry, some may scream, some may sit in the silence of unspeakable pain.

Richard’s “sentence” will be to receive–as long as people keep coming.

When he is not scheduled at the River Garden, Richard will report to the family from whom he has stolen a loved one. He will stack the wood, and clean the car and fix the fences like Michael would have done. Afterwards, he will make rounds at the homes of fellow staff members-to offset the time they lost to grief and outrage and despair. He’ll help with the laundry. He’ll take out the trash. He’ll do the dishes. He’ll clean up after the dog.

The next day, Richard will return to the River Garden for his scheduled appointments. Children will send pictures they drew after the murder. Mothers will share how they held their children through the nights afterward. Lovers will tell of sweetness lost. Colleagues will share the heartbreak of loosing both Michael and Richard.

Richard will continue to show up each day until no one comes. And then he will sit with his own pain. He will teach others how to listen. How to be conscious. How to take responsibility for anger or resentment or even depression.

He will bless our community in humble service until we have healed.

Kelly Salasin, April 19, 2011

Previous posts: BFC Tragedy.

Retrospective Reluctance

Retrospective Reluctance

Now that 2011 is behind us, I’d like to skip the retrospective and forget that there ever was a fire or a murder  or a flood; But the stores are still closed on Main Street, and Michael Martin’s sister just posted on my blog, and MacArthur is not the road it once was.

I search on the internet and the find that the only thing new about Richard is my own writing on this blog. What’s happening? It’s been almost half a year. Wouldn’t it be convenient to imagine Richard never existed?

But then I think about the Martins. How are they moving forward? How important is the trial to them? When is the trial?

(I was just called for jury duty; but not for a criminal case–Thank God.)

Yesterday, I came upon a poem about being in prison. My son was home sick and asked if I’d read to him while he ate his soup. I picked up the book that I found at the Marlboro Book Swap last year, and blew off the dust. I had intended to read excerpts from A Call to Character on a regular basis, but the practice died long ago.

“Let’s find something about kindness,”I say.

My son smirks with embarrassment.  Just a moment earlier he snapped at me in that sardonic “tween-age” fashion.  In my best NVC, I let him know it stung. With his big heart, it pains him to know that he’s hurt me, even if he can’t help himself.

“Darn, there’s no section on Kindness, only Compassion” I say. “But you’ve got plenty of that.”

“Read anything,” he says, delighted to have me seated beside him all day.

I flip through the stories and plays and fables, and a poem catches my eye in the Self-discipline category. I begin reading… to myself.

“Read aloud,” my son begs.

“This one is about being in jail; I don’t think you’ll like it.”

“Read it,” he says; and so I proceed:

Advice to Those Who Will Serve Time in Prison

...To wait for letters inside,
to sing sad songs,
or to lie awake all night staring at the ceiling
                              is sweet but dangerous.
Look at your face from shave to shave,
forget your age,
watch out for lice
                       and for spring nights,
       and always remember
              to eat every last piece of bread--
also, don't forget to laugh heartily.
And who knows,
the woman you love may stop loving you.
Don't say it's no big thing:
it's like the snapping of a green branch
                                             to the man inside.
To think of roses and gardens inside is bad,
to think of seas and mountains is good.
Read and write without rest,
and I also advise weaving
and making mirrors.
I mean, it's not that you can't pass
        ten or fifteen years inside
                                       and more--
               you can,
               as long as the jewel
               on the left side of your chest doesn't lose its luster!

(Nazim Hikmet)

Kelly Salasin, January 2012

ps. My apologies to those of you who clicked the link to MacArthur Rd above. I couldn’t help myself. That song won’t leave my mind today, especially as it rains on top of our long-awaited snow.

Should Richard Smile?

Should Richard Smile?

A friend comments that Richard isn’t a danger to anyone else, suggesting that–theoretically–he could be set free until the trial; but, of course, that would be wrong. VERY wrong. You can’t kill a man and rob a family of their loved one and keep going on with your life. You have to suffer as much as possible. It’s only fair.

Actually, it’s not even fair. There is no fairness in this situation. There never will be.

This makes me ponder the point of prison. It’s punishment right? No doubt Richard deserves punishment.

On the other hand, as a parent and lifelong educator, I know that punishment isn’t very effective in terms of changing behavior. It actually exacerbates it. Then again, the threat of punishment, can serve as a deterrent.

It’s too late for deterrents for Richard.

Do people, who feel murderous, really not kill someone because of the consequences?

What about the death penalty?

Have any lives been saved because someone thinks to herself, “Hey, I’m in Texas, and they have the death penalty, so I better drop this gun and walk away.”

What about Norway?

They don’t have the death penalty, and apparently killers there serve an average of 14 years jail time. Anders Behring Breivik, the good-looking man who massacred all those students in July, will serve the longest sentence available–21 years. Even so, those with the maximum sentence can be released after serving two-thirds, and many are given weekend parole after one third.

Despite being “soft on crime” however, Norway has a lower crime rate than us, and their incarceration rates are among the lowest in Europe.

I’m inspired by the thought that how we respond to criminals says much more about us than it does about the acts they commit.

Are we a murderous, vengeful, punishing people?

In the case of Richard, what do want?

Is death really fair?

Wouldn’t having to live a long life in the face of his horrid act be more in line with justice?

Given the irrevocable loss of Michael Martin, it’s hard to imagine Richard doing anything nice. Visiting with his wife. Reading. Meditating. Working out.

That’s when I have to turn my thoughts away from what he did to what I want or what I don’t want. I don’t want a world filled with any more murder, vengeance or hatred; and I don’t want to support the idea of “us” and “them” because within that separation is permission to do all manner of things which have terrorized humanity forever.

When I enlarge the context like this, I know that Richard’s “time” must be more than punishment; and I know that I must find my way to allowing him his smile.

Kelly Salasin, October 2011

For more posts on the BFC Tragedy, click here.

What is Richard doing?

What is Richard doing?

In the days and weeks following the Co-op tragedy, I’ve wondered, What is Richard doing?

I’ve never been imprisoned or even spent a night in jail so I have a hard time imagining how Richard’s hours are shaped–beyond the stark horror of his act.

How does he sit there, day after day, staring at such devastation? How does he read a book or write a letter or take a breath–apart from it?

Does the murder hit him like icy water when he wakes each morning?

Is the pain as sharp as it is for Michael Martin’s wife?

How does Richard find permission to move on?

What does he say to his wife when she visits?

How about his mother?

His best friend?

His co-workers?

Other prisoners?

“I shot my boss in the head.”

What do they say in return?

Does he make friends? Does he try something new? Does he begin to heal despite the never-ending pain of his crime?

Over two months have passed since Richard entered the Co-op that Tuesday morning with a gun.

How is everyone else doing now that the shock has worn off?

Does the icy water of remembrance hit you in the face from time to time too? Like when you’re standing outside of  Sam’s flood sale on Flat Street and glance across the brook to see the Co-op’s loading dock? Or when you’re pushing your cart toward the yogurt and have to pass the opening for the back offices?

Two months.

What is Richard doing?

Should I care?

Do I have a right to?

Kelly Salasin, Marlboro, VT

to read more about the BFC Tragedy, click here

Blogging for Food, a tribute to my Co-op, Blog Action Day ’11

Blogging for Food, a tribute to my Co-op, Blog Action Day ’11

Although this is my designated week “unplugged, I’m making an exception to participate in the 5th Annual Blog Action Day.  I’m proud to say that this is my third year joining bloggers around the world in posting about the same issue on the same day.

I was a brand new baby blogger the year I wrote about “Climate Change”–a steep topic for someone without a science brain; while last year’s focus on”Water” flowed more easily; and this year’s topic”Food” taps my roots–in Vermont.

I remember the first time I set foot in the Co-op. My doctor made me do it. I tentatively strolled down each unfamiliar aisle, past all the unfamiliar packaging–no Kellogs or Kraft or Keebler. Worst of all, some of the food had  scary labels, saying: “organic.”

I skipped over those items.

Eventually, the Co-op became part of my shopping routine, and soon after, I became a member. Over the years, I watched as more and more items were labeled organic–and later “local”–and slowly it all began to make sense. In this way, the Co-op taught me about food and about the connection between my purchases and my health and the wellbeing of the land and the water and the air.

That journey began 17 years ago. I’ve had two sons since and they’ve grown up in the Co-op. They’ve helped stock shelves and served food at fairs and have organically learned about the relationship between what we eat and how we grow it and how that shapes the world around us.

It was my cousin out in California who brought it all together for me. She told me that her water was polluted because of all the pesticides used on grapes, and after that “organic” became personal. Each time I picked up a bottle of wine, I thought about Deborah, and how my choice, 3,000 miles away, affected her life in such a vital way.

Kelly Salasin, Blog Action Day, October 16, 2011

What Soothes You

What Soothes You

“The mind creates the abyss, the heart crosses it.”

~Sri Nisargadatta

visipix.com

I had the opportunity to connect with a renown naturopathic doctor friend of mine, who just happens to live locally; and we touched on the stress people are feeling following the floods.  A light bulb went off when she said that this can manifest in different ways–even in physical injury.

I excused myself from the small gathering and called home right away. My youngest answered the phone and brought it outside to his father who was chopping wood.

“You know how Aidan has been hurting himself so much lately,” I said. “Maybe give him a little extra attention tonight. It could be fallout from the floods.”

My doctor friend also touched on nutritional and supplemental support for post traumatic stress, which hadn’t occurred to me, and I wondered if the Co-op might put together a end cap display of products for that. Between the murder and the flooding, they could use the extra support themselves.

Unlike my friend the doctor, I didn’t watch the flood come across the road and into my house; and unlike my new colleague at work, I didn’t see it take out my entire road. I also wasn’t there at the Co-op Tuesday morning a month ago when a shot was fired inside.

And yet, I am emotionally and physically spent from August as if I had been everywhere.

What do I need, I ask myself.  What would soothe me?

…some soft music, a cup of chai, time walking with a friend.

It was ten years ago this month, when I had to rock myself into letting go of the heartbreaking strain of 9/11.  I walked my dirt roads, soaked in the changing colors, and restored my sense of self and place.

May we all find what soothes us as we rock ourselves into the changes life brings.

Kelly Salasin, Marlboro, VT

To read more about the devastation in Vermont, click here;

or here, to read more about the tragedy at the Brattleboro Food Co-op.

Weak in the Knees

Weak in the Knees

detail, Turner, visipix.com

I can’t concentrate at work. Each day I am more tired.  And even though I am eating right, getting exercise, spending time in quiet, I’m feeling the toll of so many days of angst.

Today, I drive through West Brattleboro, for the first time since the flood, and I am surprised, and almost sickened, to see edges of black top missing, dangling into run off, yellow line and all.

I haven’t been on Route 9 since the days I walked it with dozens of other neighbors to take in the devastation; and this neglect of Western Avenue leading to Route 9 brings the trauma of that pilgrimage back.

“Road Closed,”says the sign at the base of the road, and so I turn my car around, and then  roll down my window to check in with another driver who looks perplexed.

“What am I supposed to do?” he says.  “When I came down from the college to go to the store, that sign wasn’t there.”

“You know the back way, don’t you?” I ask. And he shakes his head ; so I say, “Follow me.”

I always feel better when I help someone. It gets me out of myself, and channels my grief into something that moves, instead of puddles.

It hadn’t occurred to me when I decided to head toward Route 9 that I was avoiding Ames Hill. Though I’d driven back and forth on it a few times already, I had always been a passenger–like I had been the night that we tried to make it home to Marlboro during the flooding.

Ames Hill was nightmarish then, with only a single, rugged lane, flanked by deep caverns beneath the jagged edges where the road had been eaten away.

Once we made the decision to proceed, there was no turning back or pulling over; and if we abandoned our car, which I would have liked to do, emergency vehicles wouldn’t have been able to get through.

But I wasn’t thinking about any of this. I was making sure that the young man in the van with out of state plates was following me–past Lilac Ridge with the bright sunflowers, and around the turn to head up toward the Robb Family Farm where the cows used to moo.

It was then that my body began to re-live the tension of that nightmare ride home, even though there was a boy playing ball on the lawn in the afternoon light instead of a car dangling over a deep ditch in the dark.

I noticed my stomach tighten, without any thoughts, and I realized that my body had some more letting go to do, even if my mind didn’t.

I tried to get onto Route 9 this morning too, but there was work going on, and I didn’t want to interrupt it, so I turned around and took the long way again.

As I passed the post office, I realized that it had been days since we fetched the mail, and so I stopped, and heard how Marshall spent three hours trying to get to work last week, and finally headed back home to Brattleboro, where he took a long walk with his wife, and saw all kinds of unusual things in the water: propane tanks bobbing, an actual car, and even a house, upside down, floating like a boat on its attic.

Perhaps we need to get my friend Susie and other artists to create a large canvass upon which we can all release what we have seen.

Another Lisa took a trip down the Augur Hole yesterday to help Peggy move back in, and Lisa’s stricken face said more than any words to describe what it was to see that road missing, and the wide, rocky stream bed that was now it its place.

I haven’t been to Wilmington, but having lived there for several years, I feel a strong kinship to that community. I can’t imagine what it must be to see the devastation downtown.

As I climbed the stairs to second floor office this morning, my legs were heavy with this grief–and that of Texas, and of Japan, and I noticed that the flood had carved out much more room inside of me for compassion, and that it was taking more energy than I was used to giving.

And then there’s today’s murder at the IHOP in Nevada which brings back the grief of our own killing at the Brattleboro Co-op; which is a sour place to end this post, leaving me weak in the knees.

And yet, as I come down MacArthur Road, past John’s place, and Jason’s apple trees, and Gail’s berries, and Robin’s sky, I notice that the sun, though hidden by the clouds, is shimmering its way through in a perfect offering of light.

Kelly Salasin, Marlboro, VT

For more on Irene and VT, click here.