Oh, Orlando. You have been so good to me, to my wife, to our friends and the communities of which we are a part. You have been my home since 1997, when my family moved to Central Florida from upstate New York when I had just turned 16. I remember high school days in the late 90s when swing dancing had its resurgence, and we would go to Church Street to dance or to Atlantic Hall at Disney’s Boardwalk (Downtown Disney). And I see the ages of the victims whose names have been released so far – as young as 20 – and my heart continues to break. To try and picture myself in such a joyful situation as hanging out and dancing with friends one minute, only to be caught up in an everlasting nightmare the next… and knowing that every one of the victims in that club has a story as personal and particular as mine, with dreams and aspirations, heartaches and pain, people who love them and people whom they love…
Yesterday (Sunday) I slept in longer than I have in a long time, waking up around 9am. About half an hour later, I heard a text message – but didn’t look at my phone right away. When I did pick it up, I had a text from my brother, who lives in Brooklyn: “Oh my gosh man I just saw the news about the orlando club.” I thought he was talking about the young 22 year old woman who was a contestant on The Voice, who had been murdered Friday night in Orlando. No. It was the Pulse mass shooting, which he had seen on the home page of the New York Times. I started reading and seeing photos and videos and all I could think was “what the hell?”
I went through a lot of emotional states yesterday. Waves of sadness. Heartache. Disconnection and detachment. Shock. Exhaustion. Anger. I did not feel peace. I did not feel hope. I was glued to my phone and to the updates, even as part of me reflected on how weird it was that I heard about this via my brother in NY, and now I was sitting in church and all of us were there in the same physical space, but most of our attention was in the virtual space, watching the number of confirmed dead climb from 20 to 50, trying to find out who was safe and who was unaccounted for, reading and posting and scrolling and trying to breathe. Amy and I both have lots of friends in the Orlando LGBTQ community. I was restless. I felt like I wanted to do something, but I also felt helpless and stuck. The only thing I posted on Facebook was this:
Tears for our city, its people and its visitors this morning. Tears for the brokenness of the world. Tears for violence and hatred.
Amy posted this:
50 dead, 50. One for each state. One for each star on the the flag. 53 others injured. But 50 dead. 50. 50. Such grief. I don’t know if my friends are all safe. I hope you are. But we will all know someone. We stand with Paris, Brussels, San Bernardino, Baghdad, and on and on and on. If you’re reading this, I love you. It is an ante dote to hate. I don’t have answers to all the bigger questions. But I love you. 50 dead. 53 injured. I’m praying for you all.
Yesterday was filled with grief and pain. Even as the media took up the story and conversation online shifted to the inevitable subjects – gun control, ISIS, homophobia, mental health, love over hate, faith over fear – I was still feeling just sad and heavy. I think those conversations are important, but the main thing I was left with yesterday was, it’s important to weep and mourn, to grieve. Don’t rush that. The other truth I tried to hold on to was that there is room for everyone to process this in their own way, which might not be my way. There has to be room. We are a diverse city, a diverse country, a diverse world. We will not all process or deal with tragedy in the same way.
Towards the end of the day I was feeling more anger and frustration, and just feeling sick at the violence of humanity. The roots of violence go deep. Cain and Abel deep. Violence has been apart of America since the beginning. Violence against indigenous people groups. Violence against Africans. Violence against women. Violence. And our country continues to experience violence. According to the FBI definition of a mass shooting, there have been 133 of them this year along, and we’re only 165 days into the year. And our country continues to perpetuate/utilize violence throughout the world in the form of drone strikes, which are harder to get statistics on. There is so much violence and hatred and evil in the world.
It’s still a fluid situation here in Orlando. Not all of the names have been released. Not all of the dead have been identified. I hope our city will continue to come together across its diverse residents and become a place of peace and prosperity. I pray for the families and friends of the victims, for the LGBTQ and Latino and Muslim communities who have been most directly impacted by this tragedy. It feels weird that we are leaving on a round-the-world trip this Thursday morning. As we travel around the world over the next two months, we will carry the love of Orlando and our love for Orlando.