Before I found out about the March for Lives Lost in downtown Gainesville last night, my friend messaged and asked me if we wanted to have dinner together just so that we could be around each other in solidarity. We made a big meal. Her, her children, Cory, myself and Sky all sat at the table proper. We talked about the shooting, and old times, and movies and books. It helped us all cope.
Once everyone was gone, I laid in bed reading everything I’d missed over dinner. Watching the country mourn. Reading hateful rhetoric. Watching people fight about gun control, religion, and politics, (and believe me, I know there is a place for that, and I do have my beliefs in those areas) because there’s a reactionary need to find a place to put the blame. I read the names of the victims. I felt empty. I felt urgent. I was sad, and I was angry, and my heart hurt. I was raw. I read about the investigators inside who were having to endure hearing the cell phones of the victims continually ring with loved ones waiting frantically on the other end for confirmation of life where there was none. It made my heart sink, and I started to cry. The thing that pushed me over the edge? Reading a son’s last texts to his mother from inside the club…and BOOM. Fade to black. All the horrific fears that I once thought were slowly becoming a thing of the past came rushing in – crushing me. Even though my husband was safely next to me – even though Sky was safe in her room – I felt paralyzed and very alone on behalf everyone.
That could have been Sky. It could have been me receiving my last communications with the one that I love most in this world, and suddenly I became that mother. Suddenly I became every mother who’s ever lost their child to senseless violence. I cried uncontrollably. It could have been me sending out my own last communication. I thought about the ones who might not ever be claimed by their families, because they’d been kicked out, cut off and then shot in what was probably the one place where they felt most accepted and safe.
Many won’t compare this to 9/11, and maybe we shouldn’t, but there’s a comparison to be found between the two for me, personally. 9/11 was tragic in every sense of the word, and the world stopped for me just like it did for everyone else. I put myself in the shoes of the ones who’d lost their lives and in the shoes of the ones who’d lost their loved ones, but somehow, something about 9/11 still seemed distant to me as an individual. Florida, however, is my home. The LGBTQ community, especially here, is my family. The Orlando shooting hits me much more directly, because it has hit much closer to home. What that teaches me is that tragedy of this magnitude shouldn’t only impact you when it’s close to you. No matter where it happens, the depth of it should feel the same to all of us. That type of connection is the only thing that will allow us to come together in the ways that are most important. That type of connection is the only thing that will cut through the division and the polarization that only serves to break us apart.
It’s so easy to let the fear take over, but that’s not the answer. It’s ok to be afraid. I’m afraid, but we can’t get stuck there. Be strong. Yes, be vigilant, but do not let this make you discriminate or racially profile those around you out of a fear based paranoia. Do not let this divide us. Hug the people you love, and tell them you love them. Go to the marches and the vigils. Carry a candle, hold a sign, give blood, donate money, eat a meal together. Go to a gay club and dance in the names of the ones we’ve lost. These things are what I plan to do.