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:

Biting the Bullet

Biting the Bullet

(To read Dear Richardan open letter to a murderer, click here.)

As we crossed into Vermont,  it occurred to me that we could pick up a few things at the Co-op, even though our car was stuffed with luggage.

“What if we stopped at the Co-op for a bottle of wine?” I whispered to my husband, and then I sucked in a deep breath at the thought.

“Okay,” he answered quietly.

“It might be good to get it over with,” I explained, “especially all together.”

When we took Exit 1 into Brattleboro, I prepared the boys, checking in to see how they felt about heading into the store after the tragedy. Once down Canal Street, we noted that the new construction had enjoyed a growth spurt since we last saw it in July–adding an entire floor to our soon to be store.It felt good to know that the work on our new space continued, even while the tragedy temporarily closed the Co-op’s doors just a week before.

The parking lot was bustling with activity on this Tuesday evening, and we were lucky to find a spot for our car.  I took my time getting out–both searching and avoiding faces.

Once inside, I surprised myself by stepping right toward the wine department where I picked up a new sustainable chardonnay, without looking for Richard. Just as I placed a bottle into my cart, a shopper approached me to thank me for my writing. She had attended the vigil, but was saddened to note that there was no mention of Richard. “What must have he been going through to do what he did?” she asked before heading off with her young son to finishing shopping.

In addition to the bottle of wine which initiated this bold re-entry into the Co-op, I went even deeper into Richard’s department and lingered by the beer cooler to find just the right brew to hold onto summer. It was only then that I glanced up into the office booth where I noted two strangers, and then Tony–who was always there when Richard wasn’t.

My husband and I then ventured down each aisle of the grocery store to jump start our return to a kitchen after two weeks of eating out on vacation.  I noted that there were a lot of “connections” going on and I imagined and hoped that the Co-op management loosened up on the caution against socializing during work.

As we rounded the corner past the Red Hen seeded baguettes, my sons’ eyes caught a board filled with pink paper hearts beside the customer service window.  We stepped up to this impromptu altar and took in the expressions of love, but felt unable or unready to take part ourselves.

As we finished our shopping, we paused in the Natural Living Department  where my son asked the clerk to help him find Emu oil from the scar left behind by the stitches.  Before Peggy pointed him in the right direction, she thanked me for my writing and then embraced, before she got back to business.

I continued toward the checkout numbly, and pushed my cart up beside Tom– the cashier who I knew the best from my days on staff.  Neither of us said a word about what happened, and I wasn’t sure if I was being considerate or afraid or wise.

Perhaps the Co-op needs to get back to business as normal, I rationalized. But why were there so many unfamiliar faces on the floor? And how is it that I didn’t know Michael Martin, when I know most of the other managers by name.

Overall, it felt good to return to the Co-op and to fill my cart and to restock their registers; but it came at a cost. By the time we arrived home in Marlboro, 20 minutes away, I was still shaky. It had taken all my self-control not to weep as I stood in the wine department or passed the back office space. Thankfully, my sunglasses were still on.

At home the guys set to unpacking the car while I began packing a picnic for South Pond. If I hurried, we’d catch the sun before it dropped behind the mountain, and I needed that. Although I’d been the one who offered to put away the groceries, I noticed my husband beside me pitching in. He had already emptied the car while I had hardly made a dent in what I had offered to do. The trip to the Co-op left me unable to focus.

We were hungry by the time we got to the pond, but I had grown too nauseous to eat.  I had also forgotten the glasses and the plates and the napkins, and most important of all–the wine opener. Friends frequently remark on my ability to pack in a dinner, and tonight they would have found my forgetfulness even more remarkable.

While my husband took a dip in the cool August waters, I began slicing our first harvest of tomatoes and cukes and peppers. I used the same small cutting board to cut the Red Hen and then the fresh mozzarella. I tore the basil into tiny pieces and then doused them with olive oil for dipping.

“It’s weird to be sitting here near the tennis courts,” said my husband, as he joined me at the table. It was this time of day that Richard and his wife would leave the pond with rackets in hand.

As we shared a simple meal, the water sparkled one last time, and a large plane flew overhead–dramatically punctuating  the harbinger of summer’s waning–as the sun disappeared behind the hillside.

It had been a mistake to go the Co-op on our first night back, but it had felt right to do so.


Kelly Salasin, August 17, 2011

More on the BFC Tragedy:

Dear Richardan open letter to a murderer

Which Wolf?

Even the Potatoes are Sad



For more on the BFC Tragedy, click here.

The Price of Pain

The Price of Pain

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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?


Kelly Salasin, August 16, 2011

To read more on the Brattleboro Food Co-op tragedy, click here.

Which Wolf?

Which Wolf?

Yesterday I wrote about justice, wondering what restitution looks like for murder. Today, I’m pondering what restitution we each owe in response to this tragedy.

One reader asked something that I’d been thinking about ever since I heard the motive behind the Brattleboro Food Co-op killing:

 Where was the open dialogue within the coop to air grievances among the staff?

This same reader asked another question that I think many of us have pondered:

What must have been happening to him cumulatively that created this last straw?

This brought to mind our responsibility to each other and to ourselves–which is illuminated by this well-known Native American tale:

Two Wolves

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One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside all people. He said, ‘My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all.

One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.

The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.’

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: ‘Which wolf wins?’

The old Cherokee simply replied, ‘The one you feed.’


Kelly Salasin, August 15, 2011

To read more about the BFC Tragedy, click here.



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.

Kelly Salasin, August 14, 2011

for more on the Brattleboro Co-op Tragedy, click here



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.


Kelly Salasin, August 13, 2011

This is post #4 on the Brattleboro Food Co-op tragedy, click here to read the others.

The last time I saw Richard…

The last time I saw Richard…

by Sweet Soul Sister, at DeviantArt

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.

Maybe not.

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:

Even the Potatoes are Sad

Dear Richard,