By JULIE PRIOR GAGNON
Have you ever wondered how it came to be that this relatively new to the Islands, redneck girl began writing for The Islander?
Before I started writing for The Islander, I shared my stories on Facebook.
Yup, it was on Facebook that my “Today’s Story” posts intrigued publisher Tonya Poutry and she believed that others might enjoy them as well.
Here’s a favorite of mine that I posted exactly a year ago this week.
Today’s Story: October 30, 2018
Today is Tuesday. 3 days after this story’s events happened and I am still having difficulty finding the words to share.
I am not sure why it’s so difficult. Maybe it’s because of being in so much pain that my brain has a harder time working or maybe because the story is so deeply touching and freakishly connected to both me and my new friend’s past and present. Actually as I write this, I am sure that it is option 3, “all of the above.”
Saturday was spent cleaning my room and closet, which had become a disaster area. By about 3 p.m., I was stir crazy and had to get outside, knowing by 4 p.m. or so (each day), I have to start taking muscle relaxants in order to help deal with the head pain. That all being said, I told Carl that I was going for a Jeep ride and was on my way.
I headed to South Hero to drop something off to a friend, but in typical fashion…I couldn’t figure out which house was hers. On my way back home , I had a strong urge to head up the East Shore for a change instead of the West Shore, which is my favorite route.
I was so very happy that I was out for the ride! Not only do I love cruising in the Jeep with the radio cranked, but I had the added beauty of the gorgeous foliage and lake to take in.
I was almost home, less than a mile away, when I was driving by the bay where Carl keeps the Landing Craft in the summer. As I approached the bay, I saw a car pulled over, and a man waved as I drove by.
Assuming that I knew the man and just didn’t recognize him at first, I stopped and backed up to say hi.
It turns out that I didn’t know him, but he was very pleasant as he told me that he just stopped there to take some photos of the scenery. When he spoke, of course I had to comment, “You talk funny, where are you from?”
It turns out that he was from West Virginia and is now living in the Islands.
Of course I lit right up when he said West Virginia! I spent two weeks down there whitewater kayaking and absolutely loved it. I always said that if I didn’t live in Vermont that I would live in Maine or West Virginia.
We continued to chat and found out that we had a couple other things in common, the first being a love of baseball. It turns out Thomas was a very good baseball player. He shared some stories of his favorite player Roberto Clemente, and I shared my stories of Yaz.
Then Thomas said, “wait a minute, I have something in my car for you.” He went to his car and came back with a beautiful Dinger bat. He handed it to me and said, “Here, I want you to have this.”
Honestly, I didn’t know how to react. It was such a random act of kindness but how could I accept something like this from a stranger?
But then as I gripped the bat, it fit my hands like a glove. It just had the perfect weight and balance. I had to get out in the open area and start swinging. As I did, I was brought back to those fantastic days of neighborhood baseball games and competitive softball. Looking back on it later, I realized that I wasn’t feeling any pain at the time. I was so happy and so engrossed in my gift that I was like a kid on Christmas morning.
Thomas asked if I wanted some pictures with the bat and I enthusiastically replied, “Yes.”
We then talked a bit more and he shared how much kindness he has received from strangers since moving to the islands. He was so appreciative and truly touched deeply. I wasn’t surprised, as these are the same people that accepted me when I was new to the area. But it made me smile ear to ear to hear his story.
As I was about to leave he said, “wait, I have one more thing for you.” He went to his car, took out a card of St. Pio and handed it to me.
Now, I am not a participant of an organized religion, yet I do wholeheartedly believe in Saints. My favorite Saint is St. Anthony, but I had never even heard of St. Pio of Pietrelcina.
I thanked him, wished him the best and headed home.
When I got home I looked up St. Pio on the internet. Believe it or not, he is well known for his “Prayers for the Sick.”
Finding that extremely ironic given my personal health issues, I sent a message to my mother asking her if she had heard of him. Her reply was, “My mother prayed to him. I had one of his relics when I delivered one of you kids but I don’t remember which one. I held it all through delivery.”
After all of the coincidences of this chance meeting of my new friend…I have no doubt.
I have a renewed courage and faith (very much needed) and know in my heart that I was that kid Mom brought into this world as she prayed to St. Pio of Pietrelcina.
By Julie Gagnon Prior
Writing for The Islander seems to be effortless some weeks and painfully difficult other weeks. When writing about others, words have a way of escaping from my fingertips smooth as the flow of a gradual, deep river with very few obstacles or bends in its path. Yet, when I am writing about myself, I find that the journey is more like a shallow, rocky, rushing mountain stream. I find that my words bounce back at me with a lack of control and confidence as I keep coming across potential dangers in my path.
This analogy is actually humorously ironic. One of my favorite passions in life is kayaking down crazy, dangerous, class III to V whitewater. The idea of paddling on boring, calm, event-free water is of no interest to me.
Saturday, Oct. 12 I had a heart to heart talk with a loved one. We discussed some difficulties that I am having. Honestly, the talk is one we’ve had many times before.
The familiar conversation was focused around my oversensitivity to other’s feelings and problems, how I need to learn to let things go, and how I am so poor at taking care of myself. Like I said, it was a talk that has been talked before…one that has been repeated all through my life.
After this most recent discussion, I felt a bit better. Yet, I still felt somewhat misunderstood. It’s like a “Catch 22.” I’m often embarrassed and confused when my unusual and over-sensitive personality creates such a challenge for myself and others.
That very night, before bed, I checked out Facebook. A friend had a post titled, “Empath Self Assessment Quiz.” I had heard about “empathy” before but didn’t know “empath” was a thing. Curious, I clicked on the link. I can’t even express the astonishment and disbelief as I read the information. It seemed to have been written specifically for me (which really freaked me out). One example is, “Being an empath is different from being empathetic. Being empathetic is when your heart goes out to someone else. Being an empath means you can actually feel another person’s happiness or sadness in your own body.” Dr. Judith Orloff 1 Feb 2019
I took the quiz, and out of twenty questions, only one didn’t apply. That one is, “13. Do I have a low pain threshold?” Now, if they are talking emotional threshold then it would apply. But if they are taking physical pain threshold then it doesn’t apply in the least as I am pretty much a pain-tolerating superhero.
According to Dr. Orloff, “Answering yes to more than fifteen questions means that you are a full-blown empath.”
After reading a bit more on the subject, I shared the link to my own Facebook page – excited to expose my mind-blowing discovery with the world. I hoped it might help explain me to others and maybe help someone else who is as confused in that area as myself.
The next morning, I checked Facebook and found a friend added a link to the book “The Empath’s Survival Guide: Life Strategies for Sensitive People” by Dr. Orloff. I immediately messaged my friend and asked her when she learned about “empath” and read the book. She replied, “Literally this weekend. So funny when I read your stories, I always think that’s just like me (meeting people wherever I go and people telling me everything and the part no one sees - taking it all on and feeling it so intensely. The nature thing the animal thing. It’s all right there and explains why life is so great and so painful while others seem less affected. The stuff about addiction resonates as does relationship issues (fear of them because they are so intense when you take in the feelings of another person). It totally wild isn’t it? I’m assuming all the signs resonate with you too?”
Damn, my friend is right on the money!
Needless to say, I ordered the book that very morning before heading off to the Fairgrounds to sell calendars at the WOKO Flea Market.
During my drive to Essex, I was so excited about the knowledge and validation of the word and all it represents, “Empath.” Constantly one to want to improve myself (and ultimately making others happier by doing so) I began brainstorming how to handle the unfamiliar yet familiar bag of tricks that I believe I have been carrying since birth. I thought about going to (yet another) counsellor to talk about the new discovery. But it didn’t take long for me to rule that out. It seems counsellors always want to talk about the past and that never seems to benefit me in any way. Still unsure on where to go with my new knowledge, I had to put the thoughts aside when I pulled into the fairgrounds and had to set up camp for the sales.
I immersed myself in the process of creating my presentation. When finished, I took a seat, extremely overwhelmed at all of the people and commotion around me. A friend was coming in a bit to help. In the meantime, waiting for the doors to open at 8:30, I just put my head in my hands and closed my eyes.
When I heard a voice directed at me, I looked up to see the man who had a table kiddy corner to me. I had noticed him earlier as he had a lot of “Wolf” theme. My daughter’s spiritual animal is a wolf, and I had intentions of going to his table later to see what he was about. Yet he approached me. Before I said a word, he asked, “Can I try something”? Confused, I replied, “Ok.” He asked for my wrist and then softly touched it with his hand. Seriously, and I have no explanation for why, but a shot of energy began to travel through my body. He asked if I felt anything, and I explained what I felt. He then asked where it went. Immediately I pointed to my head. He looked at me in the eyes and said, “What are the strong emotions that you are feeling today?” To this, I just stared at him and didn’t say a word. He continued, “You feel everybody’s emotions and pain. You need to learn to let things go.”
Insane, right? Seriously, I don’t make up anything that I write for the Islander. I am just sharing with you a fraction of the world that I live in.
We continued to talk a bit, but honestly, I was getting overwhelmed and I told him that I needed to just rest. The man was very cool and understanding, an Indian with great intuitive ability.
What just blows my mind is that in less than 24 hours, this common theme, education, awareness, support, rollercoaster of emotions all came across my path. The whole sequence of events, the timing, and the same message presented to me from such a variety unrelated sources…has my mind spinning.
Yes, it’s an exciting awareness that I will learn more about as I can. But I really have to tell you something.
As cool as it is learning and improving myself in this manner, I would still put it all aside when given the opportunity to be consumed by the demands of a crazy paddle down a whitewater river in my little kayak.
Respectful yet unafraid of being bounced of rocks and tossed upside down, I have more confidence and ability to right myself and continue paddling with Mother Nature than I do handling the real world.
Does this make sense?
By Julie Gagnon Prior
Ijust arrived back at my folk’s house in Waterbury Center, after a ride to the Cold Hollow Cider Mill with my brother Brad. We stopped in to grab a dozen donuts, and on our way out (and I am sure that this comes as a surprise) I talked to a stranger. An elderly man, cane by his side, was sitting by himself. He appeared happy as a clam as he swung softly on the wooden double bench glider just outside the store’s entrance.
Enamored by the calm, peaceful and happy expression on his face, I said, “It doesn’t get much better than that does it?” As a smile spread across his face he replied, “No, no it doesn’t.”
I opened my bag of donuts and reached it out to him so that he could take one. He said, “Thank you but there are some people inside buying some donuts. I will have one of those.”
I proceeded to ask him where he was from. He responded that he was from Hinesburg but had brought visitors from NY to the cider mill. As I shared with him that Brad and I had lived in Hinesburg, his wife and two NY guests came out from shopping.
We talked a bit more about Vermont and then I said, “Wait a minute please, I have something in my vehicle for you.” Brad stayed with them (actually while holding the store door open for others), and I went to the Jeep and grabbed a couple of calendars.
Before handing them over, I explained the story behind the calendars, their creation and purpose. I exclaimed that if they were taking Vermont famous donuts home, then they should have a Vermont calendar as well. When I first said that it was a “Vermont Pinup Girl Calendar,” the women’s faces immediately dropped. Honestly, I understand their initial reaction – just the mention of a pinup girl can trigger conflicting emotions for a woman. However, I put their concerns quickly to rest when I began showing them the photos. They belly laughed as they turned through the pages. They truly enjoyed the spoof on a pinup girl idea – chuckling at me in dirty work clothes posing with items like roofing shingles and a weedwhacker.
The conversation then escalated and became serious (the purpose of the calendar). Like most everyone, they all knew someone who has been affected by Lyme.
When it was time to leave, I asked if they were huggers. They all replied “Yes,” and hugs were shared across the board. The elderly man I had first spoke with commented on what a great hug I had and asked for another. When hugging him a second time I said, “You know, I never used to hug. Most Vermonters aren’t big huggers.” The woman from New York said, “He was just telling us yesterday that Vermonters don’t hug much!” I responded, “Yeah, when I got sick, I started hugging a lot. Life is too short not to have fun and share some love.” All four of the strangers readily agreed, and our conversation continued as we walked to our cars.
This story is actually relative to another from yesterday that I had thought about sharing. I had to drive to Winooski to pick up a part for my significant other and had some pretty strong emotions and observations on the trip.
One thing I saw was pure, wholesome beauty. I was at a stop light and school had been let out not too long ago. As I sat waiting for the light, I watched a young woman and her daughter walking home. Holding hands, the daughter was a spectacular example of youthful exuberance, confidence and individuality. She had long, light brown hair with natural waves that were exaggerated by the fall wind. Her fashion choice was refreshing, a warm sweater, tights, cute skirt and little boots. Her face displayed the expressions of the day as she shared her story with her mother. I rolled my driver side window down and called out to the mother, “Hi, your daughter is absolutely adorable!” The mother beamed with pride at my comment as the daughter sweetly called out, “Thank you!”
Further down the road, I saw an older gentleman begging for change. Having been outside earlier, I knew that the air was frigid. My heart broke as I read his sign that mentioned that he was a “psychiatric patient.” Knowing how many psychiatric patients aren’t receiving treatment in the modern-day world, I wanted nothing less than to go give this man a hug and take him to where he could have a hot meal. Unfortunately, the conditions were such that I couldn’t help.
I realize, most people would not stop and talk to a man on a bench and offer him a donut, or role down their window to tell a woman her daughter is adorable, or think twice about helping a homeless person. But I have been told more often than not: I am not “most people.” Having been told that, many times it’s a compliment but many times it’s quite the opposite.
Actually, just last weekend someone who has known me for a very long time told me that I have very defunct social skills. They said that I say and do things that I shouldn’t in public, but that I am lucky because most people love me anyways. It was a confusing statement to hear but the gist was that I should be different in public.
Not long after that, another person who has known me for a long time stated, “I can’t believe you are still alive,” implying that strangers can be dangerous.
Honestly, hearing these comments cuts like a knife and causes me to question myself and my personality. Seriously I don’t know why I am the way I am. Maybe I was born this way, or maybe it’s a learned behavior or maybe even a defense mechanism-based behavior.
Either way, it’s hard for me to swallow that such great stories (in my mind) can be met with such disgust and negativity. Should I change? Should I work to be more normal? Am I wrong to be who I am and to act this way?
But after thinking long and hard about things…… I am not going to change.
I do what I do because my gut tells me to.
I have an unbound faith in the good of the people I approach.
I know for a fact that my “quirks” make a lot of people smile.
And, I also know that when I can make people smile or let them know that they aren’t alone…it makes my heart feel good.
And I like it when my heart feels good. How cool is that?
Julie Gagnon Prior
Julie Gagnon Prior resides in Grand Isle with her partner Carl and their 5 dogs. Prior has been battling Lyme Disease for several years, which she
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