[Photo from flickr by Ricymar Photography]
Readers of this blog will know that I live in Orlando, Before Sunday (June 12, 2016), that meant hot weather, bits of the South, Disney references. Today, it means I live in the city that now bears the dubious title of the worst mass shooting in American history. My city.
I grew up here. Not all of the victims’ names have been released yet, but there are nearly 50 dead. At least one was a student at my university; I know there will be more.
I’m afraid. I’m afraid that I’ll skim down the list of the dead and see someone I went to high school with. I’m afraid that just as I stop being afraid, I’ll see a post on Facebook and realize that someone I met in college, worked with, sat in class with, shopped at the same stores with, is gone in a handful of dark, violent moments.
It’s one thing to know that tragedy strikes. It’s even a thing to watch it happen in other places, but here? It’s not that I ever thought Orlando was immune to violence. Gang violence has been creeping into my awareness and the theme parks have long been considered possible terror targets. But that people could die like this, in my home?
This time it’s my city. It’s my city on the news websites, with shots of family members collapsed in grief. It’s my city that has earned speeches of support from the Governor, the President, leaders of other countries, the freaking Tony Awards show. It’s my city that has trending hashtags, #prayforOrlando and #Orlandostrong and it makes me want to scream. This is MY CITY.
This is where it gets sticky-mosquito-awful for four months of summer. This is where generations of parents bring their kids to meet Mickey Mouse. This is where I went to elementary, middle, high school, college. This is where I grew up, learned about music, fell in love, got married, where I am trying to learn who I am now, and what happened in the tiny hours of Sunday, it’s all wrong. It’s wrong. This is my city, and the blood and the fear and the grief, they have no place here.
Yet here they are.
It’s my city that has lines of blood donors so long, some are having to return the next day. It’s my sprawling, disparate city that has already pulled together to support the fallen. It’s my city that has not, as far as I can tell, taken advantage to unleash further hate upon either the LGBTQ or the Muslim communities. It’s my city where my church sat in stunned silence on Sunday morning, hoping that our tears and grief would serve as the prayer we had no words for.
Moment to moment, I find myself caught between fury and fear, gratitude and sorrow. I have a renewed knowledge that the world can be sharp-edged. It cuts without distinction. But I also find the renewed knowledge that we, humans, are capable of remembering that we are all humans. Capable of linking hands, literally and digitally. Of refusing to fall before darkness.
This is my city.
P.S. The other thing—don’t let this not change you. Give blood now, but also, give blood every couple of months. Bring water to donation centers now, but also, bring canned food to food pantries next month. Post a supportive message of humanity now, but also, reach out to those who are different from you tomorrow, next week, next year. I’ll do my best if you will.