“Look at your eyes. They are so small, but they see enormous things.” – Rumi
Sunday. I awake, the last Sunday before my stepson returns from his first trip to South Florida to visit his Mom for the summer. We cherish the last of the weekend days when we can lay in bed for as long as we’d like, before we once again face the daily toddler calls from down the hallway at an hour that feels far too early. I roll over, trying to ease the pain that’s lodged in my back. My eyes are barely open, I’m still exhausted from the previous day’s adventure when we woke up, got in the car, and simply drove in one direction without destination; stopping along the way at random.
On Saturday, we had experienced a lovely day – visiting local gardens, learning about Fairfax County history, eating masala, going for test drives
in several new cars, walking through a Civil War battlefield where the weapons had been laid down long ago, eating Asian hot pot, and ending up at a spa where my back was thoroughly tested. I’m reminded of the origin of my back pain that morning. I power up my phone as I simultaneously rub my lower back, opening Facebook to tune into the world and to see what’s going on. The news reports are rolling onto my screen – stating more than 30 people had been killed at a nightclub in Orlando. It cannot be true. I rub my eyes. It cannot be true.
Still Sunday. I’m living in the Washington, D.C. area, five years after relocating from my hometown of Orlando. I can no more separate myself from the streets of Colonial Drive, Mills Ave., and Lake Underhill…the many places I grew up, than one could separate wood from a tree. I remember when Colonial Plaza was a mall and I visited the man who most resembled Santa at Christmas. We talked about him every Christmas thereafter, until Santa faded into mythical history. I lived there when Waterford Lakes was no more than cow pastures and UCF only had 30,000 students. I can trace the time back to when the East-West Expressway did not have the expanded lanes, when Mills 50 did not exist, when Longwood still hosted swim meets, and when a little girl played with her four siblings in a backyard by a retention pond that we lovingly referred to as a lake. I can walk backwards through my memories to the constellations I viewed from our driveway as I waited for my bus which took me to the high school for my magnet program across town at 5:45 a.m., working hard and praying that someday I could have a college education and move to the nation’s capital, and perhaps, be someone.
Sunday morning. A gasp is caught in my throat where it went silent. I’m looking for more information online, part of my training as a public relations professional, as I read about how a young man walked into Pulse and began firing an assault rifle. Tears start falling from my eyes as I squeeze them shut. It takes me a couple of hours as Facebook fills with updates from my hundreds of friends and acquaintances from Orlando using the social media site’s safety check to note that they were safe, before I finally text my family to tell them I’m horrified, to tell them I’m praying, to tell them that I love them. Orlando is the place where people travel to escape, where I worked my first official job at Disney World, where happiness is our motto. Orlando has long been considered a gay-friendly destination, where people are accepted as they are, but our LGBT brothers and sisters have seemingly been targeted by a hate crime. Soon it is labeled the deadliest shooting in the history of the U.S., 49 dead, many more wounded.
It no longer feels like Sunday. I become listless, not much happens that day, I’m exhausted. I don’t move much from the couch. My mind swirls with the people I’ve known in Orlando throughout my life. Memories flood my system.
I lost my mentor earlier this year. He passed away after several years battling cancer. He was the relaxed voice on the other end of the phone line when I was making major career choices many years later. I could talk to him about anything. When I lost him, my world darkened in a way I could not explain. I began soul searching, without knowing what I was looking for. To the world I looked the same, but inside a hurricane of emotions raged. At a loss to explain the pain of never hearing the soothing words that always knew I was doing my best, always saw me for who I was, always believed in my potential. I had lost a part of myself. I began to question everything. His voice hung in the emptiness, reassuring me, and yet I would never again dial his number and find his voice. It was then that I touched grief for the first time, seeing it as it was, a long dark pool of uncertainty, my own reflection looking back at me from a time long gone…and a space between the two which no bridge could traverse. This is what grief does to us.
Sunday. I cannot speak. I go to work the next day. I look the same to everyone. But I feel the pain, the anguish, the sadness, from several states away. Texts and Facebook posts serve as reminders that I can move away, but I am still an O-towner. I watch as celebrities step forward to help, as musicians write tributes, as parades fly flags for Orlando across the country, and my hometown name plasters the front pages of newspapers the world over. The President and Vice-President lay wreaths at the memorial in Orlando, a run is planned, money is donated, and the faces of those now gone, grace the internet with their beautiful smiles. This is Orlando – the City Beautiful, a place where people come together, and this shooting will not define us. #OrlandoUnited
Grief is inaudible to others. But if you close your eyes, you can hear the sound when voices fall silent. We live on with their story in our hearts.
“At the blueness of the skies and in the warmth of summer, we remember them.” – Sylvan Kamens and Rabbi Jack Reimer
The ones you can no longer see
They drift upon a summer wind
On their way out to the sea
Only for a moment
The lights have turned off
Threatening to extinguish
What is free, at too high a cost
We must find the light again
Lest the darkness stay
For to remain good
We must not lose our way
They can scatter the pieces
But we shall bring them together again
We are all one human race
And love will always win