by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
August 28, 2011
THE COMMUNITY AND THE LADDER OF DEATH
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- When Emmylou Harris sang Townes Van Zandt's "When I Needed You" at the Green River Festival last month, she said she was often asked to sing it at weddings.
But it played over and over in my mind two weeks ago at the Brattleboro, Vt., Food Co-op's candlelight vigil for Michael Martin, who was shot in the back of the head at his desk by a disgruntled employee at the start of the working day.
Both the shot and the shooter were 59 years old. This was not a teenager killing his principal or his classmates.
These were mature men working in a place that prides itself on being safe, peaceful, fair, loving and kind. It may not achieve those things, but it tries its damnedest, and we must always be grateful for the trying.
If I needed you, would you come to me,
The desire to ease the pain of Michael's family, friends, co-workers and members of the Co-op community was as strong as it was probably futile.
There is an African saying that the ladder of death is not climbed by one person. Death is a community matter, and community is a Brattleboro matter.
I often grumble when someone talks about "the community." What do they mean? The community of left-wingers? The hunting community? The anti-nuke community? The organic vegetable community? The arts community?
There are hundreds of interconnected circles of community in this town, communities of interest and communities of chance, communities of workplace and communities of neighborhood, communities of young people and communities of the old, communities of hate and communities of love.
For this murder, all the various communities joined, and it was a large and true one.
I was surprised at how many of the hundreds of people there I knew by name or by face. We were all one in sadness, we all needed each other, we had all come for each other, to ease the pain.
The pictures of Michael showed a man who hunted, who skiied, who made snowmen, who loved his family, who enjoyed good friendships, who had a big life.
Gov. Peter Shumlin, who is from our area, talked about "making sense of the senseless." But I don't pretend to understand how this could happen. I know we are all victims, and that includes - in some way I can't comprehend yet - the shooter and his family.
What angers me is that the shooter was so angry that in acting on his anger he made us all feel the depth of it. And that depth of rage and hatred is incredibly unpleasant to feel.
In "Tower Song," Van Zandt wrote:
Your fears have built a wall between
I will never comprehend the taking of a life. But this is not the first time I've been through this. I know what it's like to have a friend murdered in a public space because she decided to love a woman instead of the man who felt his rage entitled him to murder her.
This doesn't get any easier, let me tell you.
We all need each other now, and the beautiful part of this terrible experience is that we are all swimming the seas to ease each others' pain. We care. We are a community. No one climbs the ladder of death alone.
AR Correspondent Joyce Marcel has been a Vermont journalist and columnist for over 20 years. Her work appears on her Web site, joycemarcel.com.