This post originally began as a Facebook update after I woke up to the news about the mass shooting at Pulse in Orlando, Florida. It came as the first response I had to the tragedy, and I’m adding to it now. This is part of my Not Ready To Make Nice series, and the raw response of someone horrified by the devastating tragedy of last night.
There are no words.
I don’t have them, folks. I’m a writer, and a storyteller, and for once I’m out of words. Last night a man walked into a gay club called Pulse in Orlando, Florida, and shot over one hundred people, killing 53 as of the time of this writing. It’s being declared today the worst mass shooting in American history.
The worst mass shooting in American history. Isn’t that what they said last time? And the time before that? The numbers just keep growing. And every time we think that the toll can’t get worse, it’s another place where we can have our innocence shattered. A school? A college campus? A nightclub with your friends? These are our new battlefields, where we don’t take ground for some obscure cause like nationalism, but where we stand our ground to fight for our freedom to be who we are just by showing up. Where we hope a fun night out with our friends won’t end with a slur, a punch, a bullet.
Go out into the world today in America, and you see more people standing tall then ever to be who they truly are. And yet for every time that happens, you see a tragedy. Just this week, someone set a pipe bomb in the bathroom of a store that support letting people pee in peace. And a man is able to buy assault rifles legally to walk into a nightclub where people were celebrating Pride, and murdered forty people. Because of his ignorance. His hate.
Their ignorance. Their hate.
Because he’s not alone. No matter what people will say later, he’s not a ‘lone wolf’ shooting people. He’s part of an infection of ideology that lets small people try to make themselves large by turning their hate into violence. It’s a tale as old as time. A person feels small in their own life, so they hook into an ideology, one full of hate and blame for everything that’s wrong with today. And they look at someone else, someone different, and say, “They’re wrong and they must die.” They want their pain to mean something. They make it mean gravestones and tears, and suffering in the heart of our country. We remember their names when the names of the victims fall by the wayside. In a way, they win. They are the faces of the plague of hatred that has infected America, and is eating it alive from the inside out.
Only an infection denotes a sickness, something you suffer from. Hatred, bigotry, is a choice. And these people chose to end lives with their hatred. They chose to be the poster children for the worst that humans can be.
I won’t share their faces. I won’t share their names. They are small people. They are a symptom of the larger disease, the only disease you opt into and then pass on with bullets, and explosives, and excuses about rights (to guns, to religious ideas) while ignoring the basic right to life that others have. These men don’t deserve to be remembered.
These are the photos I will remember. This is the face of what needs to be held onto in the wake of such tragedy.
There’s a line from The West Wing that was given after a terror attack on the show, and the speech its from is oddly prescient, so I’m linking to it below. But as I read about pride performers climbing out of air conditioner ducts to save their own lives while their friends hide in dressing rooms, praying not to be murdered, while patrons who came to their show lie dead on the club floor behind them, I remember this quote. “The streets of heaven are too full of angels tonight.” And its our hateful America, not religion, or belief, but the hate of men, that sent them there. Our hateful America, that which renders what could be a great country so low. We are not Great when such hatred exists.
The streets of heaven are too full of angels today. And our hateful America sent them there.
Update: Buzzfeed is compiling a list of the victims of the shooting, including messages from family and friends as well as photos. Let us remember them during this time and strike from memory the man who did this. Let us remember the victims, not the shooter.