Yesterday, I wrote a post entitled, “Which Wolf? so named after the Cherokee story which asks us to ask ourselves:
Which wolf do I feed?
I love the surprise ending of that story, and the affirmation that as a “good” girl, I’ve spent most of my life feeding the wolf described as: “joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.”
But I’ve learned that there is a cost to ignoring the “bad” wolf inside, with its feelings of: “Anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”
When I feed “good” feelings, while neglecting “bad” ones,” I create imbalance, and in this imbalance, I suffer or make others suffer.
If I had to describe a “battle” inside, I wouldn’t place it between good and evil, but between”presence” and “separation.” When I am “present” or aware of what is inside, that which is called “evil” softens and drains, and thus creates even more space for that which is called “good.”
Which makes me wonder, was Richard’s act a result of feeding the wrong wolf or of ignoring it?
After five days, I find myself hating Richard for what he has inflicted upon us. I can’t imagine what the family and friends of Michael Martin feel.
If justice was ours, how might we enact it? I scan my brain, seeking appropriate acts of restitution, but can find none for a life taken.
I think back to a lecture given in Marlboro by the author Kim John Payne. Though the focus was on education, Kim shared a story about the Maori tribe in his native New Zealand, telling us how they creatively responded to crime and punishment.
Rather than lock two young men behind bars for stealing a car, the men had to face the victim of their crime–a single mother, who was unable to get to work or attend school due to the loss. Alternately, the “court” of community members heard the stories of these two young men, how their lives led to the crime, and how it affected them.
Each party–the young men and the single mother–had someone from the community, beside them–not so much to speak, but to support. Others spoke too, on behalf of both, and the “trial” went on for hours as they did.
In the end, the local grocer stood up and offered these two men work so that they could afford to repay the woman for the hours she lost at work and to pay for her transportation to school while her car was being repaired. Additionally, the local mechanic offered his services so that only the parts would be charged.
There were more voices in this story, and I may have mistaken some of the details, but what I remember most was what happened after the “trial.” The men were asked to stand on what might be a town green, and the community members each circled past them offering praise for their restitution. No one spat or cursed or otherwise separated these men from the community in which they belonged.
How would the Maori deal with murder, I wonder? What acts of restitution would arise from the mouths of the community? For surely Richard, despite his abhorrent act, still belongs.
Stripped of the shock and horror that clouded my thoughts for days, I wake to the naked truth that a murder has taken place. That a man’s life has been stolen. That a family has been forced to bear not only a devastating loss, but a violent one.
I’ve lost loved ones to tragedy, but never to murder. The compassion I felt for Richard turns toward anger. For his desecration of life and community and the cooperative. Truly there has been infinite beauty in the collective response to this tragedy, but there is no escaping the ugliness of it.
My anger quickly melts back into grief however as I view the Richard’s arraignment. I hold my breath while the camera focuses in on the door from which he will enter the courtroom. When he appears, I turn my head away, unable to bear his transformation from the wine guy to the criminal.
When Richard finally does make his way through that door, my hand flies to my mouth. It’s not just the grey sweatsuit that is two sizes too big, or even his hair, typically worn neat, that is now wildly disheveled, as if he spent his first night in jail ripping through it. What truly breaks my heart and brings me to tears is both his frame–bent and shuffling–and his face–ashen and lost.
He looks up and into the courtroom for just a moment, and his bottom lip droops as if he is about to crumble into tears.
And now I am angry at all of us. How could we have prevented this man from this self-inflicted hell? How could we have spared these families the loss of their loved ones?
Relieved to be 300 miles away, I share this new wave of grief with my friends at the shore; and I am surprised by what I see in their faces. It is a mixture shock and compassion and fear. Only the fear is not of someone like Richard, but of themselves. Fear that they too have a murderer inside. Fear that they might someday be stripped of their senses by rage.
Although he wasn’t the one to die, I find myself recalling the last time I saw Richard, as if he had.
That night my husband and I had stopped in at the Co-op to get a bite to eat before a movie at Latchis, and we were delighted to find a wine and cheese tasting going on. We dashed off to the bathroom first, where we waited in a painfully slow line, and then made our way eagerly around the corner toward the brie and crackers.
“What are you pouring Richard?” I asked giddily, looking up to him in his booth above the department. He quietly shook his head. The tasting had ended; even though I could clearly see wine remaining in the bottles.
Richard explained that he had to stop serving promptly at 6:30 as scheduled, due to liquor control regulations or something to that effect.
That was the last time that I distinctly remember connecting with Richard, a little over a week before the Co-op tragedy; but it’s just as likely that I saw him again, at South Pond, as I often did throughout the summer, with a tennis racket in hand.
What strikes me now is how closely Richard observed rules–those on the court, and those of wine tastings–only to break the cardinal rule so shortly after.
Richard Gagnon never looked like a man who would take a gun into the Co-op to shoot someone. He simply looked like Richard Gagnon, the wine guy, leaning against the frame of his slender office inside our community owned Co-op.
Richard was the guy who taught us about reds and whites, about the shape of a glass and how it enhances or detracts from flavor, about how to keep the wine fresh with a vacuum stopper. During the holidays, Richard pointed us to the bottles that would make the best gifts and offered us free wrap to adorn them.
Years ago, the Co-op suffered another loss–when Henry, the beloved cheese guy, passed away. The cheese department was never the same without him, but we embraced his passion for Vermont cheeses, and were soothed in our loss until we grew accustomed to it.
Now I can’t imagine shopping for wine where Richard used to be. It’s as if it’s all been tainted. The grapes soured. The vines withered.
I think back to the last time I saw Richard and look for something different in his eyes.
Maybe he was a bit quieter.
What I do know is that I can’t get his face out of my mind. I return, again and again, to the last time I saw Richard. Now I even see him 300 miles away as I pass the shelves of wine accessories in a department store. I flinch when I hear the manager called over the loud speaker; and I mistakenly refer to an old friend as Richard.
My mind insists on reworking this tragedy, but there is no bending of the rule that Richard broke. (If only he would have poured me a glass of wine.)
Kelly Salasin, August 12, 2011
Note: This is the 3rd piece that I’ve written on the Co-op tragedy, click below to read: