Tragedy Hits the Community Garden: Part 2

How does a community garden react when the worse crime of all is committed by one of its own members?

In this post we return to where we left off, with the collective in the community garden still reeling from the tragic events that unfolded on the 27th December 2021. 

Trigger Warning: Violence Against Children and Suicide  

A small child who had often played amongst the flower beds had been killed at the hands of her own father, someone who has been a regular face in the garden and at the monthly assemblies. The shock waves were still ringing in our ears; the grief still raw and palpable. 

Garden Closed 

After the news broke, an unanimous decision was made to close the garden for a few days to mark this period of grief and out of respect for everyone involved. A few candles and bunches of flowers were placed at the gate. After a few days though, the garden opened as usual and life there went on as normal, at least on the surface. 

It was a while until I returned to the community garden. When I finally did, I was a little apprehensive about how it was going to be. 

It felt strange to just carry on without mentioning it, but at the same time life had been going on there as usual for some time. I was unsure how to broach it with people and was concerned that it was going to feel weird and awkward. 

It is true that it did feel a little bit uncomfortable at first. Sometimes someone would mention it in passing and a spontaneous conversation about it would ensue. People wanted to talk about it as a community but didn’t really know how to. No-one really knew how to handle it, or what other people’s reaction would be to what they had to say. 

Considering that this is a community garden, it may seem strange for you that we didn’t know how to deal with it as a community.  Isn’t this a collective group project, after all? 

But you should know that when referring to the people involved in the community garden, I use the term ‘community’ lightly. It is not like we are all the best of friends. 

It is like any group of people who come together with a common cause: some people you have more of an affinity with than others. So naturally, people came together in smaller, more intimate groups to support one another.

Assembly 

Finally though, in one of the monthly assemblies, the topic was brought up. However, discussion was more practically orientated. There was talk of putting out an official press release denouncing violence against women and denouncing Julien. Some people were all for it, others were more unsure. 

Those who were more involved in feminist endeavours insisted that it was important to show support publicly for women. Others weren’t so convinced- we are just a community garden after all. They didn’t see how any kind of (what seemed to some to be) politically oriented official communication would really make any difference.

Personally, I was more interested in first dealing with our pain and sadness as a community, perhaps by planting a tree or some flowers in her name.  I wanted a balm for the grief, pain and confusion of such an atrocity and thought that by coming together with others in ceremony and ritual, we could support each other and deal with the grief together. 

tragedy in the community garden
Photo by me

But no sooner had I made my suggestion though, than a woman arrived who is part of the group of families that often frequent the garden and therefore who knew Julien and April well. She came with a message from April’s mother. She was 100% clear: no events, no official press releases, no nothing.

This came as a bit of a disappointment, but of course, everyone respected her wishes. At least the matter has been aired, in our own clumsy way. We had spoken about the unspeakable and we felt better for it. 

Conflict

Whilst I would like to report that this event brought the community together in their shared grief, unfortunately, the opposite was true. Rather than bring people together, it pushed people apart.

In the aftermath of finding out about this crime, it soon became apparent that there were two different camps that had two different perspectives about it.

 One side considered Julien to be nothing but a monster; a wicked person who must have been something other than human. The other side on the other hand, who generally had known Julien personally, disagreed with this portrayal of him. (Although of course no-one could ever condone this heinous act, that goes without saying). 

 Much of this debate was carried out in the heat of the moment prior to finding out via the WhatsApp groups we have, when everyone was in a reactionary mode of some description.The problem here of course being that it was never discussed face to face.

 This difference in perspective did prove to be a little bit uncomfortable and maybe added to the general feeling of dis-ease around talking about this as a group. It certainly stopped me from feeling so forthcoming in discussing it with people. 

But all that it had been up to this point was (slightly heated) debate. Unfortunately though, sometimes it only takes one innocent comment to start a war and that is exactly what happened next. 

Whatsapp Wars

It was 8th March 2022, International Women’s Day. In one of the whatsapp groups someone wrote, what was intended to be, a celebratory message: “Happy International Women’s day to all the men who love us and look after us”. 

Next another message came through from another person sharing an article about the day…written by a man. It didn’t take long for someone in the group to point this out: 

“Men that look after us? It is us who sustain life and guarantee reproduction and care in this patriarchal, capitalist society!”.

The message was quickly deleted but not quick enough, as the person who had originally shared the article had already begun their reply: 

“There are exceptions, and perhaps they (the person who wrote the first message) just wanted to include them. It’s a hope! Less bitterness and more transformation! Let’s look forward.”

Uh oh. Now we had trouble. 

“Bitterness? Honestly, it’s not bittererness. You have to look at what’s in front of you in order to look forward”.

The other person responds in what was meant to be jest: “We are going to introduce you to a nice guy one of these days ;)”. 

Oh dear. Now oil had been thrown on the fire. Thankfully, a measured response ensued: “International Women’s Day is a women’s fight, it’s not a men’s day, please”.

At this point, another commentator pipes up: “Well said! I was biting my tongue!”. 

Appreciating the encouragement, the previous commentator responds:

 “Exactly! Men already have enough protagonism 365 days of the year. Today it is our turn. All my life I have had good men around me. My partner is one of them. But nothing stops me from looking around and seeing the world how it really is”. 

“Oh, a day of therapy! Let me enjoy it!”, the person who had posted the article replied, in jest or in sarcasm, you can decide which.

(At this point in this WhatsApp conversation, messages started to get mixed up as both parties were replying at the same time, which no doubt didn’t help matters. The order here is the order that which makes most sense for the narrative) 

“I haven’t offended you, and I don’t need therapy. You lack political awareness”.

“Political awareness! It just seemed aggressive to me that, even though it might have been unintended, you corrected the desire of someone else. We are all free to feel how we want aren’t we? But anyway let’s just leave it”.

“There’s nothing more sexist than saying to a woman that she needs a man. Especially coming out of the mouth of a woman. But this isn’t strange for someone who doesn’t condemn men that kill their daughters to get at their ex-wives.” 

(Shocked and frozen face) “¡Qué nivel Maribel! I will say no more”. 

At this point the person who wrote the first message about International Women’s day that started this whole this thing interjects: 

“I didn’t intend for a debate! I think that it is just a moment of union, if we talk about equality, for me it means equality to celebrate International women’s day together with men. Because we all look after each other! And it’s beautiful that this happens! For many of us it’s a day of celebration- it doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman. This is what I wanted to say, with love”. 

The conversation then ended there and the group was silent after that. Soon though, messages about which plants had been watered, what needed to be planted, and when the compost needed to be turned started to occupy the space.

But on some level the damage had been done and a line drawn in the sand. 

photo credit: SutoriMedia

Damage done

When I read the conversation I felt shocked at the hate that was so pronounced in that final message: “But this isn’t strange for someone who doesn’t condemn men that kill their daughters to get at their ex-wives.” 

Whilst I can understand people have different points of view on feminism and politics, this felt like a low blow. This was the accusation that was still lingering under the surface in the community. Those of us who refused to call Julien a monster were suddenly worthy of this kind of spite. 

For many people in the collective, their first reaction upon finding out about what Julien had done, was to call him a monster. To be angry and seek retribution. Whereas my initial reaction was shock and horror, followed by sadness, confusion and grief. 

I wanted to try to understand before I jumped to conclusions. My assumption was that Julien had lost his mind. I thought he might have been drunk, drugged or both. I assumed that he must have had an acute crisis of some kind whereby he had lost all sense of reality.

But the truth was that we didn’t know any more than what was in the press. There was no way of knowing the ins and outs. We did know that he had left a note though, so he was aware enough to put pen to paper…perhaps he knew full well what he was doing? 

That thought just couldn’t sink into my brain. All I knew was that he must have reached a dark, dark place that is beyond any comprehension to have done such a thing.  Yet, I still didn’t share the point of view of some of the others from the community garden who were insistent that he was a monster. 

Dehumanised 

Whilst I agree that it was a monstrous thing to do, I felt that this label position dehumanised him. Perhaps that dehumanisation- that he was a monster and that’s why he was capable of such a crime- made the whole thing easier to get through. 

monster in the community garden
Graffiti, Spain. Photo by me

But I see this as an easy way out. It is much more difficult to face the facts whilst also retaining your (and their) humanity. It is often much easier to feel anger than the pain, sadness, confusion and grief that lies below it. 

Also, it is much easier to brand someone a monster when you don’t know them. They are just a name and a face; distant and detached from our heart. It is much more difficult when you are their friend, lover, neighbour, brother, or colleague; when you have shared meals, shared laughter, shared love. 

We are quick to say how we could never imagine doing such a thing. But here’s the thing: Julien would have said the same thing.

He was self-proclaimed feminist and an active participant in many different social causes in his neighbourhood. Everyone who knew him said the same thing: that he was a good neighbour. 

Therefore, it is more than probable that Julien,  if he was reacting to the same crime committed by someone else, would have said the same thing: that the perpetrator was a monster worthy of contempt and condemnation. 

Monsters Under the Bed 

It seemed to me that the many people’s thought pattern was the following: 

“He could only do this because he is a monster. I am not a monster therefore, I would never do something like this”. 

But dear reader, as uncomfortable as it may be to ask the question, I must insist:

If monsters exist, how do we know that we aren’t one? 

Maybe it is because we are human that we are capable of such atrocities. This is the unpalatable truth. The finger is pointed at us, and as much as we try to deny it, you never know how circumstances could change and how that could drive you to do things you never thought possible- for better and for worse. 

Or perhaps he was a monster- define that word as you will. Perhaps I am being naive about the reality of human beings. Maybe it is as simple as good and evil; human and monster. 

But this will never be my attitude as I think that it lets us off the hook and allows us to get away without examining the light and dark that exists within our own selves. 

tragedy in the community garden
Dark and light. photo by me

But that is just my view. We are free to see things differently as long as there is respect for diversity of thought. Back when things were still raw and people were still in reactionary mode, it was respect for different points of view that I felt was so badly missing from the conversation. 

Respect 

That final whatsapp message, born no doubt out of anger and reaction, revealed a punishing judgement on those who refused and rejected the word ‘monster’. It was painful and frustrating to be condemned, even though the message wasn’t directly intended for me.

 It highlighted to me how pervasive attack, blame and judgement, goodies and baddies, is in our communication. Yet it is the key ingredient in our politics and media so it is unsurprising that it finds its way into our relationships with friends, partners, co-workers and within communities.  

Mine was not a popular position, and for this reason, after this message, I was hesitant to discuss it openly as a collective because I didn’t fancy being on the receiving end of this type of energy. After all, no one likes to be condemned for their point of view. 

Indeed, in intense emotional situations, tolerance and acceptance is easy to preach, but harder to practice, even in supposedly progressive communities such as this one. 

Reflection 

Since then I have reflected a lot on how we could have done things better, supported each other better, helped each other more, but I am still not sure if I have the answers. 

It has become apparent to me that there are people within these email and WhatsApp groups that are not regular participants in the community garden, but nevertheless, read the emails and messages, waiting for an opportunity to come up at the right time that allows them to take part. 

Since publishing my last post about this, one of these silent observers, someone who used to come to the garden to help with me back in 2021, reached out to me to thank me for writing about what happened. They told me that the lack of clear response from the collective put her off participating, as they found the silence uncomfortable. 

the community garden ¡Esta es Una Plaza!
The community garden team 2021.

They weren’t aware of the fact that April’s mum had asked us not to do anything, but they definitely felt the absence of a group response. It makes me wonder how many other people were put off getting involved for the same reason? 

In our defence, in these situations, it is easy to sit on the fence and judge about what the other people should be doing or how things should be done, but the reality of these self-governed places is that no-one is a professional or is being paid for their involvement. 

We all lack skills, knowledge and experience so it is understandable that given the gravity of the situation, this in-expertise would show up. 

Best Healer 

I have also thought about how other kinds of groups process and communicate, such as non-violent communication, could have helped. Yet you also can’t begin to learn them in an acute situation such as this one, so for this particular situation, they were not tools that were available to us. 

Perhaps those talking about putting out a press release back in the original assembly had a point after all. A group text in the name of the community garden would have maybe filled in the silence that was felt by some and removed a barrier to discussing the situation (had we had the green light from April’s mum that is). 

In the end though, I think the most powerful healer would have been simply to listen to each other and be there for each other, regardless of our different perspectives. Sometimes it is the most simple and straightforward approach that is most effective. 

We are all human beings after all. We feel emotions. My emotions may be different to yours. It’s ok, I am here for you. I see you. I hear you. We can hold space for each other in quiet reverence and acceptance for what the other is going through.  

Creating a safe space of mutual care and acceptance by coming together in a shared silence would have been the most simple and effective cause of action, I feel.

Closure 

We also have to move on at some point. The garden couldn’t stay closed for forever; the plants needed watering, the compost needed turning, the weeds needed taking care of. 

In the same way, we can’t stay closed forever: we need to talk about things and air them out, in order to move on. This is what I am doing by writing this blog post.

In the time that has passed since then, I have spoken to people about what happened and about how the whole thing was handled, but always on a one-to-one basis. It has felt good for me to speak to those who I trust to share my feelings and also listen to theirs. 

Eventually, an event was organised discreetly to honour April’s life and also to highlight this ‘crime vicaía’, crime committed to hurt someone via proxy, as well as violence against women.

 Unfortunately, due to being away in the UK last summer, I lost the thread of what was going on.  Because the event was not publicized in order to be discreet, I didn’t know that this was happening, so I wasn’t able to attend. 

As I understand it, a group of women, mothers and activists from the community garden came other to reflect on what had happened. I heard that there were still differences of perspectives between those who knew Julien personally and those who didn’t, but they did reach a consensus as to how to move forward with a collective memorial for April.

A tree was planted in April’s name and the artist Jeanne de Petriconi created a mural dedicated to her memory. The mural involved the art work of children from the community garden and the phrase ‘and my thought jumps over the wall’ is a fragment of a poem in which the author attempts to recover lost and precious moments from her childhood.

mural for April Esta es una Plaza
“And my thought jump over the wall”.

The Last Chapter

There is still more to say about this story than this blog post can provide the space for. To skip this final chapter would be to only go halfway, to stay on the surface of matters and not dive down to the dark root that would drive a man to commit this kind of atrocity. 

But for now I would like to thank you, dear reader, for having the courage to read this post and for joining me in this conversation. 

Whilst I appreciate that this material is tough, it is also real life. I hope that the act of sharing this story enables us to be brave enough to look this real, human life in the eye, even when it hurts. 

Let us have compassion for ourselves as we all try our best to muddle through it all. 

Thank you for having the courage to hold space for me as I tell you this story. Your views, feelings, and perspectives are welcome here too. Feel free to share them below.

tragedy in the community garden

To get the final part of this story delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for my newsletter below. You can also find me Instagram and Facebook @shared_earthliving.

If you would like to contact me directly, the best way is via the ‘contact me form’ on this blog. I check this email regularly and will be able to respond more easily and thoughtfully. I’d love to hear from you.

Olivia Grundy

Join me as I transition from the city to the country, following my hearts desire for a more sustainable life based on respect for the Earth and all the creatures in it.

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Melissa

Thanks for sharing your response to this community situation… Society doesn’t teach us how to deal with these things as a community anymore and we spend more and more time in our individual online silos. So it’s understandable that the community didn’t have the tools to deal with the situation at the time that it happened… I’m really glad that April did get a memorial tree and a mural in the end. I absolutely agree that choosing not to talk about these things doesn’t let us grieve either as individuals or as a community.

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