Tragedy Hits the Community Garden: Epilogue
This is the final part of the series of blog posts that I have written about a terrible crime that took place within the collective of the community garden (see parts 1 and 2– trigger warning: violence against children and suicide).
In this final post, I share my final reflections on painful episode. Using the words of the victim’s mother as a guide, I enquire into my own life experience and ask: what does this tragedy reveal to us about ourselves and society? What root is asking to be pulled up?
Quest for Healing
In writing these series of posts, I have moved through many different feelings and perspectives, often yo-yoing between wanting to seek some kind of comprehension and just wanting to forget this sad story all together. In many ways it has felt very confusing to try to walk the fine line between dehumanisation and what could be perceived as condoning the uncondonable.
Now that the shock waves and grief have passed (writing about it has helped), and the full story (of my experience, but not everyone’s) has been told, I feel that it would be wrong of me to simply move on without examining the societal implications of such a crime.
After all, the tagline of this blog is ‘Co-creating a More Beautiful World’. For me this is as political as it is spiritual, practical as it is abstract, down to earth as it is visionary. What kind of co-creator would I be if I were to side step the underlying question of why this type of crime exists in our society?
I want deep and transformational change, both for myself and for you; for us and for the world. The More Beautiful World is not just for me, it is communal. In this way this story isn’t just mine, or the community garden’s. It is ours. It belongs to all of us as members of the human race.
Therefore I feel that we owe it to ourselves and each other to reflect deeply on the social implications of this crime. In Spanish it is called crime vicaría, meaning a crime committed to cause damage to someone else via proxy.
This is not the first time a child has been killed by a man to get back at the mother. This is an all too common pattern of gender violence in Spain, and as disturbing as it is, I feel that I owe to myself, to my readers and also to April and her mother, to explore it more deeply.
In my search for more information I discovered that April’s mother had published an open letter in a local newspaper sharing her perspective.
In the letter she wrote about how no-one, not even her, had any idea that Julien was capable of such a thing. She talks about how he was involved in so many social and artistic movements, how he considered himself a feminist and how he regularly questioned his masculinity in a very deep way.
“Everyone in the neighbourhood knew him, NO ONE, not even me, would have ever expected this, precisely because he was a GOOD NEIGHBOUR, involved, feminist, one of those who claim to have reflected on machismo, to have questioned his masculinity to the core.”
But she is very clear when she says:
“Julien Charlon’s aim was to harm me. There is no excuse for an act of this calibre. I have no use for the fact that he was crazy, he had a crisis, he was insane. (…) The ACT SPEAKS FOR ITSELF.”
The fact that he was part of so many social movements made him such an unlikely candidate for such extreme violence. It sent shock waves through these communities as one of their own showed himself to be capable of such an abhorrent crime.
She continues: “This means that our normality coexists with this possibility, even in those circles. This is why we need to reflect on the macho behaviours that are part and parcel of our lives.”
This brings a painful awareness to those of us who, like myself, identify as being part of these communities engaged in social issues. But the facts speak for themselves. Violent crimes against women and children are not just committed by the mad and bad men of low social status, but also the opposite: socially aware, feminist, artistic, politically engaged men involved in many community projects.
Abril’s mum delivers a stinging criticism of these supposedly progressive circles:
“Six months after my daughter’s murder, I ask myself what kind of reflection and change has been made in a neighbourhood that claims to be and has a reputation for being super involved in social issues?
Silence without elaboration, without thought, is synonymous with complicity with these acts and therefore contributes to repetition. It is very likely that we do not know what to do, or that words are lacking, but doesn’t the gravity of what has happened make it necessary to suspend everything in order to review in depth what allowed it to happen? Has all this served no purpose? It is better to draw a veil over it and pretend it was an isolated case, a heinous crime of the kind that rarely happens.”
It is difficult to admit, but I think she has a point. In some ways I have seen a veil drawn over it, people unwilling to really think about it for any length of time. I guess because it causes us so much discomfort and pain to consider that we are humans capable of doing such things.
It is much easier to consider it ‘out there’, somewhere else in the world, in someone else’s community, someone else’s son, brother, or husband. But what about the men in our own home? In our place of work? In our local communities? Or indeed our community gardens?
She goes on to say that for Julien, it came down to a deep and profound need to control the uncontrollable: a woman’s desire to live her own life as she wishes. Her only crime was to decide to leave him. This was the only motive he had for doing what he did.
I found all of this quite confronting to be honest. I can’t say that it was easy or enjoyable to read what she had to say. It was a direct challenge to the reader, in this case me. It was as if she was saying: Are you going to pull a veil over this too?
I felt the temptation to just click off and move on with my day. But a little voice inside pulled me back.
“You need to look at this”, was its message. “Are you going to be content to just write up the story of what happened, as you experienced it, or are you going to accept the invitation to see what all this means for your own life?”
I paused. My mind went back in time to men that I have known, ex-boyfriends long past. At first glance, I only saw positives. I would only ever speak highly of all of them, despite any immaturity that may have played out during the course of my relationships with them.
Yet, upon further inspection other memories surfaced. Memories that I perhaps didn’t consider deeply enough before, but now, in the shadow of April’s murder and the light of her mothers letter, they take on a new, darker hue.
They are only petty moments where comments were made in passing or in the heat of reaction. But these moments were flagged up as needing to be looked at.
First I will share the memories and then explain why I feel that it is pertinent to our discussion:
I remember a moment, over 18 years ago, that I asked my then boyfriend if he would be happy for me to find love with someone else if he was to die (yes, I know, strange question to ask someone!). I had expected a yes, of course, because, as I’m sure you will agree, that would be the normal response for a well-balanced, loving individual.
But the answer was, in fact, a no!
This response baffled me. I don’t remember any kind of jealousy within the relationship…but in the hypothetical event of his death, he would be possessive from the grave? How bizarre.
Of course, he was nothing less than a teenage boy and this is nothing but a petty conversation. But still, we have to wonder why a teenage boy’s first response would be one of possessiveness and jealousy.
I have also unearthed a moment from another teenage romance that feels significant to me:
This was a case of unrequited love, as the guy in question realised that our fleeting romance didn’t hold any future. Amongst the anx-filled letters and texts found its way a not-so subtle suggestion that if we were not going to be together, he would do something to hurt himself…in an extreme way.
Immediately I saw this for what it was: the emotional manipulation tactics of an upset teenage boy and without any hesitation, I told him so. (There was no way I was going to pander to that type of behaviour). And as it turned out, I was right, and nothing more was said about it.
As I have already said, these are tiny specks of dust whose seeming insignificance seems embarrassingly inconsequential. However, I see the same pattern in both: the desire to control my life in some way when they were faced with the prospect of no longer being with me, either by possessiveness or doing something to get back at me for having different desires.
Now, these guys are just normal guys. These were not weird, toxic relationships. Young relationships yes, but abusive in any kind, absolutely not. Just your normal, run of the mill young romances.
It would only be too easy to write them off as being somehow messed up; outliers in the bell curve of normal people. It would also be too easy to write me off as a young woman who was equally messed up with a tendency to attract toxic relationships.
Indeed, we could invent all kinds of reasons to not consider these two anecdotes as being reflective of any kind of real pattern within men in society.
But the inconvenient truth is that these were two normal guys from good families who have gone on to lead normal, even very successful lives. Those moments were nothing but snapshots in time where something in them became known, where something ugly rose to the surface.
In truth, I hadn’t thought about any of these occurrences before I read April’s mums article. That’s how little they had affected me. But thinking about them now in the light of this tragic and heinous crime, committed by just another ‘normal’ guy, and I can’t help but wonder if there is something to her words:
“It (the murder of April) is not an isolated incident, it is the extreme of a macho behaviour that punishes female desire because it cannot control it (…)”
It is the extreme of a continuum in which there is room for many other spiteful behaviours, including neglect, silence when colleagues make certain jokes, complicity in spaces with the absence of women’s words and desire, lack of listening, invisibility of what does not yield to male interests, mistreatment in its many forms towards women (…)”
Dear reader, I am aware that all of this makes for a confronting read, but to use April’s mothers words once more:
“If we are not able to think about all this and generate the conditions for non-repetition, to seek forms of reparation, a profound change in our communities, we will be accomplices to what happened.”
We need “a real and profound transformation. Not political acts or demands. Not looking outwards, but inwards.”
I am not trying to make any comparisons about the small, seemingly minor anecdotes I have shared in relation to this heinous crime committed against a mother and child, nor make any grand and sweeping statements about what it says about men or society at large.
They are just memories with question marks attached to them. Open ended questions for which there is no answer.
But I do agree with April’s mother’s words. If we are not able to look deeply into ourselves and our life experiences when faced with such darkness or if we chose to look the other way, to keep silent and leave it to someone else to solve, then we are in a way choosing not to participate in the healing of hearts that is required for this kind of crime to disappear from the face of Earth.
In speaking to people about this crime, the most common reaction has been the knee jerk “How could someone do that? I just don’t understand”. Then the conversation is changed to more palatable subjects. I have also asked myself the same question, and for sure, I don’t understand either.
But instead of retreating from it, I feel that our lack of comprehension is an invitation to seek some kind of understanding, some kind of deeper search into human nature, into our conditioning, impulses and tendencies. Feeling the pain and grief and then washing our hands of it is too easy. I advocate for excavation of the darkness that lurks within all of us.
It is interesting to consider the following questions, whether you are a man or a woman:
When have I had an impulse to get back at someone when their desires have been in conflict with mine?
When have I tried to control someone’s behaviour through emotional manipulation?
When have I experienced the desire to cause someone else suffering?
I can hold my hand up – I am for sure guilty of all of the above.
Does this make me a potential murderer?
No. Yes. Maybe. I don’t know.
I believe that April’s mother is right: there is a continuum whereby you and I have engaged in behaviour that we may be less than proud of yet it is a million miles from being a murderer. But violence is a seed that looks different at various stages of its growth.
Julien’s violence grew to the grandest of heights. For the majority of us, this will never, ever be the case. But that’s not to say that we don’t carry the seed with us, as difficult as it is to admit to ourselves, let alone others.
In a recent workshop that I attended, the Indian spiritual teacher Sri Shyamji Bhatnagar said that we humans are a violent species. His perspective of violence is perhaps more subtle than most common ideas of what it looks like.
“Intolerance is violence. Anger is violence. Cheating is violence. We may smile at a neighbour but what is happening inside us?”.
He went on to say that spiritual work means learning “how to handle our own violence”.
He said that the only solution that he has found until now is:
- To develop a lifestyle that purifies ourselves (remembering that in most cases, the pollutants to our hearts, bodies and minds is much greater than our ability to purify ourselves).
- Practicing meditation and bhakti yoga (devotion) to open the heart, such as the use of mantras and chanting to purify our energies.
I suppose that each of us chose to confront our violence to the level that we feel comfortable and to the degree to which we have the tools to do so. But I feel that an enquiry into our own violence is the only appropriate end to this series of blog posts.
We cannot change the violence in others, as much as it may leave us shocked, stunned and traumatised. We can only tend to our own violence; our inner world is the only world under our control.
Most people go through their lives without any depth of search within themselves. Society pulls us outwards, distracts us, shocks us, traumatises us, scares us, and generally discourages us from going inwards.
That’s why inward reflection and taking responsibility for ourselves and our own darkness is in fact a radical act of self love and courage that flies in the face of all mainstream culture. It is a radical act of rebellion and dissent. It is the secret revolution that happens behind closed doors as we take back our power and go from victims in a sick society to courageous change makers, boldly becoming more love and less violence and fear.
But whilst we are excavating the deepest parts of ourselves that we would rather not look at, it is important that we do so with a kind and compassionate heart for ourselves and others. Indeed, it has been through navigating through this story that I have realised what a necessary tool compassion really is.
Compassion means that we don’t let the violence, obscenity and cruelty of the world corrupt our heart. In my case, it has meant that through all of this, I haven’t closed my heart to Julien, as shocking as that may sound. After all, how could you not write him off as an inhumane monster unworthy of any kind of love or compassion?
Compassion doesn’t equal condoning the actions taken by people. It doesn’t mean we simply allow ourselves or others to be treated badly or abused in any way. As the Buddhist teachings tell us, we need wisdom as well as compassion. The wisdom to discern when to withdraw, to say no, to defend, to draw a firm line in the sand. But also the compassion to do so in a way that our hearts are not infected by hate.
Whether it be self-hate or hate of another, this is a virus that corrupts our humanity and shrivels up our soul. Our society would condone it. We are righteous in our hate, mistaking our closed hearts as justice served. Indeed, by saying that I feel compassion for Julien I open myself to attack and criticism from a large proportion of society, even my own community
That’s how radical compassion is. It is so outside of the punitive, unforgiving, blame-seeking system that we live in, that it is in itself intensely subversive. A political act of rebellion in its own right.
I started this blog with the desire to add my grain of sand to the co-creation of a more beautiful world. This desire goes beyond my own dream for my small life; it is about planting the seeds of a different kind of world for us all to inhabit. Hence why the name of this blog is ‘Shared Earth Living’. To explore and share what it means to be human on this planet, the light and the dark.
This exploration is important; as is the sharing. If we explore our light and our dark then we can become more aware human beings. If we share what we find in our explorations, we help others to become more aware. From this awareness, we can heal those patterns that no longer serve us and build a better future for us and the generations to come.
May these blog posts serve to shed light on what prefers to hide in the dark,
May the light of our reflection, enquiry, writing, reading, feeling and healing alchemise it into gold.
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